Fullerton Elementary safe to reopen, say air quality experts But recheck the school for mold, they advise

November 05, 1996|By Marego Athans | Marego Athans,SUN STAFF

Health and indoor air quality experts told about 160 parents at Fullerton Elementary School last night that the building is safe to reopen for classes tomorrow but should be retested and monitored to make sure the mold that was blamed for health problems does not return.

Although tests revealed abnormally high levels of mold in one classroom, the health risk is low because it is unlikely to be mobilized in large concentrations into the air, said Dr. Clifford Mitchell, an occupational and environmental physician at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health.

"I'd feel comfortable sending my 4-year-old daughter here," said Mitchell, who was called in as an independent consultant. Many parents remained suspicious and worried about reports of a black substance discovered in air ducts, which Mitchell identified as fiberglass insulation. Some parents said they wanted the air retested before the children return.

"We should be 100 percent sure before we send our children back," one mother said.

School and health officials want to retest the air when the school is in full swing, to get an accurate reading of the environmental conditions while the building is being used under normal conditions.

"There are no really good guidelines on how much microbiological stuff should be floating around," Mitchell said, noting that people have different sensitivities, and levels of mold or other allergens that bother one person may not affect someone else.

"It's sort of a best guess, and it's not a perfect science," he said.

The building was closed Oct. 25 amid concerns of parents and teachers about air quality, recurring mold and respiratory infections, headaches, sinus problems and rashes that have upset the learning environment since the start of the school year.

For more than a week, children have stayed home while crews have replaced floor tiles, cleaned air vents and encapsulated the top of ceiling tiles to lock down fibers that might become airborne.

Problems began in early August when school officials noticed mold spots on carpeting and ceiling tiles. They blamed the problem on excess humidity caused by a broken boiler and other damaged air-handling equipment.

The carpet and ceiling tiles were replaced -- the carpet with floor tiles -- but the mold reappeared early last month.

Tests found mold indoors similar to types typically found outdoors. Levels were mostly normal, but in one classroom, tests revealed levels of mold at eight to 20 times the "moderate risk" range.

School officials -- at the recommendation of Johns Hopkins representatives and an indoor air quality expert hired by the school system -- plan to continue cleaning the ducts and treating them with a substance that locks down particles.

Pub Date: 11/05/96

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