by B.J. O’Brien
October 18, 2002
Town and school officials met Tuesday to discuss the recent mold problems that have been addressed at Bethel Middle School and figure out what to do so the situation does not come up again.
The meeting was attended by First Selectwoman Judith Novachek, Selectman Robert Legnard and Superintendent of Schools Gary Chesley. Also in attendance were Laura Vasile, the town’s health director; Robert Germnaro, the supervisor of facility operations for the schools; and Gil Cormier, a certified industrial hygienist.
First Selectwoman Judith Novachek pointed out that this problem isn’t unique to Bethel.
"This is an ongoing, around-the-world problem," she said. "It’s going to take time, and it’s going to take a lot of dollars [to correct]."
During the course of the meeting, Mr. Cormier shared a list of control measures that could be done to eliminate the mold problem altogether. He pointed out that these recommendations weren’t final.
In the short term, school officials can be on the alert for health complaints from students and staff, vacuum the facility more frequently and efficiently, purchase new vacuums, prohibit any wet cleaning from taking place in the building, control and monitor the building’s humidity and purchase a new hand-held humidity reader.
Long-term recommendations include better housekeeping of the school’s heating and air-conditioning unit, removing carpets and materials that are porous and often wet and keeping the moisture levels in the building under control.
The mold growths were found in the school during the summer but were determined not to be hazardous to the health of those occupying the building.
Consultants determined that the mold most likely came from moisture that was caused by humidity that was brought into the system and condensation on surfaces inside the school.
Cleaning did not eliminate the problem completely, so Dr. Chesley brought together a group of experts to look at the school’s ventilation and heating systems that could have been contributing to the problem.
The team consists of Lois Roberts, consulting engineer to the town; Bruce Bodell, a mechanical contractor; representatives from Siemens Corporation, the controls engineers; Mr. Cormier, Mr. Germinaro and Mrs. Vasile.
It has been pointed out that the last roofing project at the middle school could have had something to do with the problem.
According to an HVAC mechanic, the ventilation and heating units on the roof had been removed during repairs and were not rewired when they were put back on.
Mr. Cormier pointed out that fresh air has played a part in the forming of the mold. Instead of using recycled air, most of the units were open to let air in from the outside.
"Seven of the eight units had their fresh-air intake open 100 percent," he said.
Mr. Cormier pointed out that too much heat in the building contributed to the mold.
He noted that when the chillers were running, they were bringing in cool air, and when they were off, hot air came into the building.
Most of the mold growth in the building occurred in the band room, where the carpet was taken up. There was also mold found on instrument cases.
"Very minimal growth was detected in areas outside of the band room," Dr. Chesley said in an earlier written statement.
He also pointed out that the building’s existing equipment had been recalibrated to control the humidity and air movement better.
Mr Legnard pointed out that schools that have had a similar problem for a long time have been torn down.
Mr. Cormier didn’t believe that the problem at the middle school would go that far.
"We’re at the forefront where we’ve kind of been able to keep things in check," he said.
However, he did acknowledge that it is hard to take care of a system that is as poor as the one at the middle school.
"It’s difficult to operate and maintain a system that has a bad design," he pointed out.
Mrs. Novachek agreed, saying, "It’s a horrible design that everyone knows shouldn’t be used." There were also some recommendations made to improve the air quality at the school. These include monitoring and controlling the relative humidity inside the school and maintain levels within the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers guidelines. It was also noted that the town should consider developing a formal program for the operation and maintenance of the air-handling units for the school.
This would make it easier for custodians to learn how to maintain the system.
"That becomes part of the action plan that we’re looking to present," Mr. Cormier said.
It was also noted that it may be difficult for custodians to properly take care of the system due to all of the other things that they have to tend to.
"We have to look at what’s reasonable for people and hold people to that," Mrs. Vasile said.
Although the middle school is deemed safe and the mold will be eliminated before it becomes a major health concern, Mr. Cormier noted that a lot of exposure to mold has been known to cause health problems in the long run.
"We’ve seen cases of asthma increase as people spend more and more time inside," he said.
The purchase of cooling coils for the air-handling units was also discussed. Mr. Cormier pointed out that the ones that are in the school are dirty.