An annex at East High School has been closed because of excessive mold while students are being screened for possible health problems resulting from the contamination. Nurses began screening students and several classrooms remained closed Thursday as officials worked to protect East High School from a contaminant normally associated with tile grout: mold. Seventh- through ninth-graders answered queries on whether they’ve experienced flu-like symptoms, allergies, rashes or other problems associated with possible mold exposure. Today, 10th- through 12th-graders will be screened.
Officials don’t know yet how many students and faculty members might have suffered ill effects, said Jeane Chapman, director of the division of health and social support for Memphis City Schools. In the meantime, five classrooms remained closed pending tests to determine whether recent cleanup work has eliminated mold problems. “We want to make sure that portion of the building is safe before we let the students back in,” said Eric Thomas, safety and health officer for the school system.
The imposing 1,550-student school between Poplar and Walnut Grove just west of Holmes has been the focus of concern since late October, when a parent spoke at a Memphis school board meeting about possible environmental problems at East. Subsequent air-sampling and surface “tape lifts” revealed excessive mold levels in three classrooms in the southwest wing of the school and in a building annex containing storage and custodial areas, Thomas said.
A report by National Econ Corp. of Memphis said the mold could cause reactions among “sensitized or allergy-prone people.” Molds usually aren’t a problem unless spores land on a wet or damp spot and begin growing. Then, they can produce allergens and, in some cases, toxic substances that cause allergic reactions, asthma attacks and skin, nose, throat and lung irritation in even nonallergic people, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Thomas said the mold problem apparently is traceable to water seeping into the school through tunnels beneath it.Crews have worked to eliminate the seepage and, in the contaminated areas, have removed floor and ceiling tiles, shelving, paper and other porous material on which mold can grow, Thomas said.