MOST PARENTS would say the only mold in a school should be the green-black furry stuff growing in petri dishes. But the combination of aging school buildings and exceptionally wet weather has created a bumper crop of fungi in a number of Harford and Baltimore county schools.
Concerns about this mold should not be dismissed as hysterical overreaction. In large quantities, common molds like clasporidium and penicillium can trigger allergic reactions, sinus infections, headaches, coughing and irritation of the eyes and throat. Others, such as stachybortys chartarum, memnoniella and aspergillus versicolor, can produce airborne mycotoxins that cause serious health problems such as chronic fatigue, loss of balance and memory.
But the mere presence of molds does not mean they are causing illness. To produce these severe symptoms, the molds generally have to release airborne spores. Other factors, including a lack of fresh air and volatile organic compounds found in airtight, energy efficient buildings also produce similar health problems.
The culprit in these "sick" buildings may be the lack of fresh air. The New England Journal of Medicine pointed out in a 1997 editorial that making buildings air tight to save energy also traps toxins, molds, mildews, micro-organisms and dust mites. School systems are no exception. The U.S. General Accounting Office reported that 20 percent of the U.S. schools have air quality problems.
To their credit, Harford and Baltimore county school officials quickly responded to complaints about mold. Rather than just remove stained and moldy ceiling tiles, insulation and carpet from the schools, they should examine how they can renovate or replace school ventilation systems so they bring in more fresh air instead of merely recirculating stale air laden with irritants from dust to spores.