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Mold Growth in Schools Causes Local Concern

Since the detection of this potentially detrimental growth in both Jesse Stuart and Southside Elementary Schools, employees of the Hopkins County school district have stated that several successful cleaning efforts have been made in an attempt to eradicate the issue.

However, a local mother of 4, Melisa Bruner, who also owns Kid’s Corner and Xpress Tan in Madisonville, contacted iSurf News with several concerns she has regarding the mold issues.

“I have a 6 year-old daughter who has severe asthma. She has to use a nebulizer,” said Bruner. “My main concern is that they cannot tell me 100 percent that it’s safe to send my child, or anyone’s child, to school. I feel like we need to spend some of our money and get someone in there to professionally clean it, because they’re only using our custodians and they’re only cleaning the surface. They’re not cleaning underneath. I was told yesterday [August 10th] that they’ve cleaned it, but it’s coming back in the cubby holes where the children’s backpacks are going, and that the carpets need to be pulled up. There are a lot of other parents who are upset about this, too.”

“Our principal at Jesse Stuart, Phyllis Sugg, was personally with me for 45 minutes yesterday,” said Bruner, “and took me through the school to where my children would be, and showed me that they are doing everything that they are being told to do. Even though there are getting directions to do this, the staff is doing everything that they can.”

After speaking with Bruner, iSurf News contacted the Hopkins County Health Department’s Director of Nursing, Denise Baldwin, to find out how they are helping with the situation, as well as what some of the potential health risks of mold exposure might be.

“We have a Health Department registered nurse in all 14 schools in Hopkins County now, and if any children are experiencing any problems, they can let the nurses know,” said Baldwin. “We will be paying special attention to children with asthma, any kind of respiratory problems and/or allergies, and also to any children who have any kind of immunosuppression. These are the children that you want to watch to make sure there aren’t any problems with mold. You know, the environmentalists from the Health Department are working with the school system to address this issue and to make sure the children are safe, too.”

As far as symptoms or illnesses resulting from exposure to mold, Baldwin explained that, “If someone has an allergic reaction to something, it could be a serious complication, but different people are allergic to different things. Some people are sensitive to mold, though, and for these people, you’re mostly going to see symptoms like nasal stuffiness, coughing or wheezing, throat or eye irritation, or occasionally skin irritation.”

iSurf News also thought it pertinent to speak with the Hopkins County Schools’ Director of Facilities and Safety, Steve Gilliam, to find out what they believe caused the growth of mold, how they are working to eradicate the fungus, and whether or not the facilities are safe for the children.

“When the custodians went to cleaning the carpets in the last 2-3 weeks before school started, they noticed that there were several spots, which were apparently mildew on the carpets in places where the humidity had gotten high in the summer during the evenings,” said Gilliam.

Gilliam also explained that nighttime “set-backs” with the schools’ air conditioning systems might have played a role in producing the mold as well.

“With night set-backs, we turn off the air conditioning systems or at least turn them down during the night to be more efficient,” said Gilliam. “Four schools in the district had never had set-backs on them until this past summer, and Jesse Stuart and Southside are two of those schools. Plus, in the summertime, the custodians don’t clean every room every day, because the kids aren’t there. What they’ll do is focus on 2-3 rooms, clean them up, and then move to 2-3 more the next day, so some of the rooms sit for a couple weeks before they come back to it. So when you add in that humidity from those night set-backs to fact that everything wasn’t being vacuumed and cleaned every day, you have a possible reason for the mold.”

Other than doing away with the air-conditioning set-back policies and performing cleaning operations, Gilliam also told iSurf that they are working closely with the Hopkins County Health Department to ensure the safety of the children by keeping a close eye on moisture levels and overall appearance. In addition, Gilliam said that the affected schools will be replacing carpeting and/or flooring with tiling over the course of the next 1-2 years.

“We’re doing everything we can,” said Gilliam. “We’re not going to let it slip up on us. We’re coming up with plans to start removing carpet and putting tile down and that’ll go a long way. And I think the air-conditioning factor is going to correct stuff on its own, because we’re conditioning that air 24-7 now. We think it’s a safe environment for the kids, but there’s no way you can 100 percent guarantee people that there’s not something below the surface that you can’t see that’s going to come out. You just take care of it when it does.”

Luke Short
 

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Posted on 2/2/14
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