Denial in Our School System
Lafayette, LA – It appears another argument has arisen on mold safety; depending on who stands to be liable for the problem. School officials said they were “exceedingly comfortable” sending children back to Plantation Elementary School on Wednesday, when the school reopened after two days of mold testing and cleaning.
Not all parents agree. And experts on mold and the results of exposure to it continue a debate, making it difficult for parents to decide what to do. This is a very common situation among schools across the United States where flat roofs and leaky HVAC systems are the culprit. The campus was school officials found a potentially harmful mold in one room. Seven students have tested positive for tricothecene, a toxin created by the kind of mold found on campus.
Melanie Breaux still is at a loss. Her kindergartner did not attend school Wednesday. “I still don’t know what to do at this point, the best direction,” she said.
Kyle Bordelon, the school district’s planning, facilities and maintenance director, said the school’s principal reported normal activity on campus when it reopened Wednesday. “No abnormal amount of absences,” according to the school, Bordelon said. But, Breaux isn’t sure when to send her daughter, Olivia, back to the school. Breaux said Olivia has suffered from new allergies and respiratory problems since beginning school at Plantation on Kaliste Saloom Road in August.
Breaux has been administering breathing treatments and allergy treatments, which she stopped recently when she pulled Olivia from the school. Breaux said her daughter is feeling much better.
Erik Belsom said his two children were not back at school Wednesday, and he isn’t sure when they will go back. One of his children tested positive for exposure to tricothecene in a urine test that is not FDA approved. His other child has been tested, and they are waiting for results. Breaux said the controversy surrounding testing the school and appropriate testing for the students has left her searching for answers.
Jester Nutritional in Maurice, the only area office some parents found to do the testing, is no longer offering it. Jane Hebert, co-owner of Jester, would not say why. Breaux said she may try to have Olivia tested anyway.
One mold expert, Ritchie Shoemaker, a Maryland doctor and author of Mold Warriors, treats people exposed to toxins, including toxins produced by mold. Although Shoemaker could not comment specifically on the case at Plantation, he did share some of his experience with toxic exposure and the biology of mold.
Shoemaker said air sampling is not the best way to test an environment,
“The days of relying on air samples have disappeared,” he said. He said a test that uses the environmental relative mold index is more appropriate, but not always conclusive. Shoemaker said it is important to realize that mycotoxins, which include tricothecene, are part of a bigger picture.
“Mycotoxins are a small part of the iceberg,” he said. He said many factors can contribute to toxic exposure and measuring toxins is “rough” because it is not yet known how much it takes to make someone sick and because each person is different. “Even if they had the same environment, we do not know the minimum threshold for the genetically susceptible person to become sick when exposed,” Shoemaker said.
He said about 24 percent of people have a genetic basis for susceptibility. Shoemaker said, ultimately, the facts surrounding cases like Plantation are “a complex biological situation.”