Mold at school worries parents

Official in Montgomery County sees no `major problem'


GAITHERSBURG - Jack Pykosh, 8, has endured multiple antibiotics, CAT scans and the removal of his adenoids in an attempt to alleviate his chronic sinusitis and allergies to pollen and mold.

Jack's father, Paul Pykosh, has resorted to ultraviolet lights lights to kill bacteria, cleaning vents, dehumidifiers and expensive filters in his house.

This summer, it all seemed to be working. But when Jack returned to DuFief Elementary School in Gaithersburg this fall, his congestion worsened. Pykosh thinks it has something to do with the mold problem at his son's school.

"I have no idea what I'm going to do with my son," he said. "I try to remain cool, but my patience is wearing really thin. Do I pull him out of school?"

Pykosh is not the only frustrated DuFief parent. Some are so fed up with the mold problem at the school, which Montgomery County school officials acknowledge, that they have mentioned staging a sickout or filing a lawsuit as a last resort.

Richard Hawes, director of facilities management for the county schools, said the mold at DuFief is not "a major problem," which he defined as "excessive mold throughout the entire building."

"When you have these hot, excessively humid days for extended periods of time in these old buildings, you have to expect issues like this," Hawes said.

Sean Yarup, environmental safety coordinator for the schools, said some county schools have had minor mold problems this year. "As far as widespread - the whole school - there may have been a few," he said.

DuFief is one of the few.

Yarup said that to allay the fears of parents, the air quality in the school was tested.

"In certain situations, to alleviate concerns, we will do the airborne samples" and compare the inside air to that outside, looking at mold spore levels and types, he said.

In addition, temperature, humidity and carbon dioxide tests were conducted.

The tests indicated that five rooms in DuFief had higher mold levels inside than outside and revealed possible mold colonies in air conditioners.

"While there are no established regulations for judging what an acceptable or tolerable quantity of mold is, the sampling results indicate that we should take additional measures to search for and eliminate sources of mold within the building," Yarup wrote in a letter to Principal Dorothy Reitz.

The letter outlines actions such as cleaning air-handling units, evaluating their effectiveness and continued cleaning and replacement of ceiling tiles by DuFief's maintenance staff.

One parent showed a reporter photographs she had taken in the school Sept. 22 of bowed, water-stained and possibly moldy ceiling tiles, moldy cabinets and rugs and dusty vents in classrooms.

Telephone calls to Reitz seeking permission to visit the school have not been returned in recent days.

"I go into almost every classroom and I find spots" on the ceiling tiles, said Susan Beckwith, whose son Christopher is a third-grader, as is Jack Pykosh.

Parents' biggest complaints are the lack of visible action and the lack of communication from school officials.

Parents say Reitz has been forthcoming with information since school started but that there has been little direct response to parents' e-mail to officials including Yarup and County Executive Douglas M. Duncan.

Beckwith told Pykosh that Jack's teacher suffers from a bloody nose every day, a symptom often attributed to toxic mold.

"Our kids have been exposed," she said. "What if it is toxic mold? What if?"

Pykosh said Jack woke up recently at 6:30 in the morning with a bloody nose. "And it wasn't just a couple drops," Pykosh said. "Half his pillow was filled with blood. I just want them to fix it."

Katrina Altersitz writes for the Capital News Service

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