Mold In Our Classrooms

My hometown newspaper Greenwich Time, reported in a front page headline on March 25, 2009 “Mold found again at Ham Ave.”  The Hamilton Avenue Elementary School in Greenwich was closed in 2005 largely due to the perception that mold made the school unsafe for students and faculty.  For the past three years, the youngsters attended classes in temporary modular classrooms, which ironically also suffered from mold problems, while awaiting completion of the oft-delayed reconstruction of the school, the Greenwich Time reported.   It was discovered last week at the newly re-opened school that a 2-to-3-square-foot patch of mold was discovered due to a leaky interior pipe that hadn’t been properly sealed during construction. It is not surprising that the school’s industrial hygienist, Hygenix, found “exceptionally low” levels of mold after sampling. What is surprising is that the decision was made to perform sampling at all considering that the source of the water infiltration was addressed and the mold removed.  Sampling is often not necessary and sampling results are frequently misinterpreted to suggest a health hazard where none exists.  In its guidance for “Mold Remediation in Schools and Contaminated Buildings”, the USEPA cautions that there a number of pitfalls associated with mold sampling which at best only provides a “snapshot” of conditions as they exist at a given time.  To suggest, as the school’s consultant did, however, that any “residual microbial hazards” had been eliminated is an unfortunate choice of words because it is probably the case that no hazard ever existed in the first place.  Ron Gots, a toxicologist based in Rockville, Maryland, who has written extensively about public misinformation about mold describes how medical statements by mold testers may result in unintended consequences in the event of a claim.  For example, the statement in a hygienist’s report that “This mold is known to produce toxins which can cause a variety of adverse health effects including……”  is not only irrelevant, but begs the question whether:(1) the mold is producing toxins in this instance?; (2) those toxins are getting to people?; and (3)  they are getting to people in sufficient quantity to cause harm?  As Dr. Gots points out, the issue is not what molds can do; the question is what they are likely or proven to do under these particular circumstances in this setting. These are the five types of mold that are harmful to people. To avoid further fear and confusion about mold (and unnecessary costs) at the Hamilton Avenue school,  a more scientifically objective approach should be considered by the Town.