Tests in campus’ old wing offer no clear answers, district says
By Selicia Kennedy-Ross, Staff Writer San Bernerdino.com
A possible mold infestation at a mountain high school has prompted a legal claim and an investigation by Rim of the World Unified School District officials.
While air samples have proved inconclusive so far, officials said that years of water damage in the oldest wing at Rim of the World Senior High School has teachers concerned about mold growth in the walls of the aging building.
Interim Superintendent Karen Bryan said the district is currently conducting a mold investigation in the part of the campus known as the "300-wing,’ where most of the English classes are held.
"We have done three different air sampling tests within the last year,’ Bryan said, "but at this point we have not been able to determine whether or not we have mold."
"There was one area that we did do abatement in, and we have been doing continued improvements like window replacement, carpet replacement, gutter removals and drainage replacements in that wing."
Teachers can also request to have air purifiers placed in the their rooms, Bryan said.
Principal Walt Harris said the school has replaced the carpet in some rooms with new tile and replaced some drywall in the past 18 months.
Teachers originally brought the matter to administrators’ attention, and some feel the district has not done enough.
A workers’ compensation claim was filed by teacher Lynette Kaplan, who said she is severely allergic to mold. According to the claim, complications from a mold-related infection may have been the culprit for Kaplan’s hearing loss in one ear.
Kaplan declined to comment on the claim.
"Some of the teachers came to us with concerns regarding the air quality at the school,’ said Elaine Tipton, president of the Rim Teachers’ Association. "But the district presented us with a report from a mold expert that showed at that time there was no evidence of mold.’
Tipton said the union asked the district to provide air purifiers for some classrooms, which has been done.
"I can’t comment on whether they have had specific illnesses,’ she said. "But there has been concern because of the past situation with’ Kaplan.
Bryan said she was aware of the claim but had no details.
"If indeed we have a problem that could affect student or staff health, we will deal with it,’ Bryan said. "But we’ve got nothing that would give us a red flag. We did the abatement because teachers requested it.
"It’s important to us that we have answers, and I think it’s important to everybody that people feel safe in their schools.’
"We were not directed to do this. We did this because the teachers asked,’ Harris said. "With mold, there are no set guidelines to adhere to.’
School board member Chuck Nelson said the district is taking the matter seriously and will continue to have mold abatement experts test the building.
The school recently installed new drywall and the building’s exterior has been resealed to prevent further water drainage or leakage, Nelson said.
"We’ve had a study that has been going for months, and with all the tests we’ve done, so far we’ve found nothing that would endanger the students,’ Nelson said. "This time we believe we have solved the drainage issue.’
Students like junior Ashley Tracy also have concerns about mold.
"I’ve noticed a lot of students have been getting sick lately,’ said Ashley, 16. "There’s been a lot of runny noses, coughing, wheezing. The rooms are really moist and gross.
"Right after it’s been wet outside it smells really bad almost like that old musty smell. We have to keep the doors open a lot because the smell gets really bad.’
However, Ashley said that while she had been ill with cold-like symptoms, she did not believe her illness was related to mold. Ashley also said that while some students were sick, she hadn’t noticed a dramatic rise in illnesses this year.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a few case studies have shown that people who have been exposed to toxic molds may develop rare health conditions such as pulmonary hemorrhage or memory loss. However, a link between the toxic molds and these illnesses has not been proven.
Several studies have also found that most molds do not cause significant illness, said Dr. Eric Frykman, chief of disease control for the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health.
"The bottom line is that molds do not produce disease in most normal people,’ Frykman said. "In general, most people could expect nothing, especially if air samples reflect nothing. But some people who are sensitive to mold may experience hay fever or allergy-like symptoms such as runny nose or watery eyes.’
Those with either chronic illness or increased sensitivity to mold in a situation where there is significant exposure over time may exhibit more specific symptoms such as infections, fever, shortness of breath and, very rarely, lung disease, Frykman said.