Could Your School Have a Mold Problem?

In August, officials at Atlanta’s Booker T. Washington High School closed four areas of the building due to a mold infestation.

iStock_000006261763SmallExcessive rain over the summer caused mold problems at the school, and testing confirmed that four areas of the building contained low levels of mold spores.

In order to protect the students and employees at the school (and to ease the concerns of parents), a crew was called in to clean the areas. School officials determined those rooms would not be re-opened until further testing indicated the areas were safe.

Finding mold in large commercial buildings, such as schools, is common because mold is found almost anywhere. It can grow on most surfaces as long as there is oxygen and moisture, particularly if the moisture problem is not discovered or not addressed.

The concern about mold in schools has risen as the public and officials become more aware that mold exposure is a health risk. Mold is a major allergen that can cause students and staff to experience asthma attacks, allergic reactions and other potential health effects, according to IEHA.org. Mold remediation is crucial for proper indoor air quality.

Because it’s impossible to eliminate all mold and mold spores in a school building, controlling moisture is the key to preventing mold growth.

Moisture problems can be linked to many causes, such as humidity, roof leaks, gutters that direct water around the building or unvented appliances, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The EPA also explains that some of the changes in building construction practices over the last several years contribute to moisture problems in school buildings. Some of the changes mean buildings are more tightly sealed, but the structures may not have adequate ventilation, which provides the proper conditions for moisture and oxygen to co-exist and create mold.

The EPA recommends the following tips to prevent mold:

  • Fix water leaks ASAP.
  • Watch for condensation, and if wet spots are discovered, fix the source of the moisture problem promptly.
  • Prevent condensation by increasing the surface temperature or reducing the indoor humidity. Keep indoor humidity below 60% relative humidity (between 30%-50% is ideal).
  • Keep HVAC drip pans clear, clean and flowing properly.
  • Vent appliances that generate moisture to the outside.
  • Perform regular maintenance and inspect the school building and its HVAC system to discover any problems in the beginning stages so they can be resolved before much damage occurs.
  • Dry damp areas within 48 hours.
  • Protect the foundation from remaining wet. Ensure there is proper drainage and that the ground slopes away from the school’s foundation.

It’s important to understand that mold may cause structural damage to your school building, if the moisture problem is a long-term issue. Moisture may weaken the floor or walls.

If you suspect that your mold problem may have damaged the building, consult with a structural engineer, the EPA advises. For more on mold remediation in schools, read the EPA’s guide, Mold Remediation in Schools and Commercial Buildings.

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    December 14, 2013

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