School officials working to alleviate mold problem

Friday, February 9th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKMULGEE, Okla. (AP) -- Officials have replaced a roof on one of two Okmulgee school buildings and are taking bids on replacing the roof on the other to halt an onslaught of mold, which was found in moderate to high levels in the high school.

Assistant Superintendent Dwight Wilson said other measures, like purchasing a new air-conditioning unit, also have been taken.

"Nobody is telling us with the data that we've gathered that the building needs to be evacuated or abandoned," Randy Smith of U.S. Source Control in Tulsa, an indoor air-holding company, said Thursday. "But if your child's sick at all, is that acceptable?"

Smith, who is serving as a consultant for the district, said the mold is a symptom of a bigger problem.

"If I can't control the ventilation, I can't control the humidity," Smith said. "And if I can't control the humidity, I'm still in trouble."

Smith was among those who attended a meeting Wednesday night about health concerns related to the mold. The levels represent a potential exposure risk to individuals with allergies or asthma, according to a report released by the Aerobiology Laboratory at the University of Tulsa.

Samplings taken Nov. 7 from seven classrooms and a hallway in two school buildings revealed growths of various types of mold, some of which are relatively harmless.

Other types of mold, such as stachybotrys, can produce airborne toxins, called mycotoxins. Mycotoxins can cause more serious problems, such as chronic fatigue, loss of balance and memory, irritability and difficulty speaking, research indicates.

The TU lab found stachybotrys on a second-floor ceiling tile in one of the buildings.

Ray Hudson, whose grandson was ordered to stay home from school because of the mold, said the children's lives and futures are at stake.

"They are erring, I'm afraid, on the side of expenditure, more so than they are safety," Hudson said. "That's the part that bothers me."

The contamination in the school exacerbated sophomore Terry McKnight's asthma to a point that his physician ordered him to stay home, where he has been doing his schoolwork since about Christmas break, Hudson said.

Workers have removed all the porous materials from affected classrooms and washed them down with antifungal chemicals, Wilson said.

Air-quality officials could begin surveying for further contamination in one of the buildings by as early as next week, Smith said.

Heavy spring and summer rains, unprecedented winter snow cover, leaks and a broken sump pump led to the proliferation of the mold, officials said. The school's flat roofs are notorious for leaks, Smith said.

Hudson said he appreciated the mold awareness generated by this week's meeting. But he said he believes nothing short of closing the school for cleanup will satisfy him.

"That's the only way they can get me off their back," he said.