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Mold In Schools*

Nov 25, 2002

Schools battling mold problems


NASHVILLE, Tenn. - To protest a menace in their school, nearly 1,000 students at East High School in Memphis skipped homeroom one day.

Across the state, 1,000 other students spent a month at Bristol Motor Speedway not watching NASCAR races, but studying in the skyboxes while a threat was removed at Sullivan East High School.

In each case, the problem was the same: mold.

Nationwide, school districts are finding allergy-inducing mold in walls, on carpets and near ventilation systems. While one report blames aging buildings and mold-promoting construction techniques, one expert says it's because of a lack of proper ventilation in newer schools.

"It's a growing problem, and it's one of the more high-priority issues that schools are dealing with," said Ericka Plater, indoor air-quality manager for the American Association of School Administrators.

Mold has forced some administrators to shut down schools and make millions of dollars in repairs. Others face lawsuits from students and staff who claim moldy buildings caused long-term health problems.

In Fort Myers, Fla., several teachers sued county school officials last week, accusing them of failing to fix mold problems.

In Tennessee, just as the Bristol students returned to their school, teenagers at Heritage High School about two hours away in Maryville got an unexpected four-week vacation when mold was found there. The repair estimate: $1 million.

Memphis School Board members called an emergency meeting after hundreds of students there refused to enter East High, which some parents described as a "mold-infested hazard."

About 600 students received medical screenings after Donald Criss Mister Jr., 17, died Nov. 16 after an asthma attack. So far, no link has been found between the death and mold in the school, but the School Board hired an environmental consultant, and federal inspectors with the Environmental Protection Agency will tour it today.

Mold problems usually go unnoticed until people become ill. No federal agency regulates or monitors air quality in schools, and few states inspect for it.

Plater said a federal report suggests old, dilapidated schools might be more susceptible to mold. Others say the gypsum wallboard and carpeted floors that replaced plaster and wood make newer schools a greater target because they soak up more moisture.

This story can be found at: E:\Timesdispatch.com/news/MGB3C2IRX8D.html

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