Parents await mold test results for two schools
HILTON HEAD ISLAND: Public also will learn recommendations to improve conditions
at Nov. 11 forum.
By Jennifer Moore
Carolina Morning News
Beryl Title has "serious concerns" about sending her daughter to
Hilton Head Elementary School.
The chronic headaches and impaired vision her daughter suffers from are a
result of mold in the school, she said, and she doesn't want to continue to
expose her to that environment.
"I don't want to compromise my child's health," she said.
Title is one of a few concerned parents who attended "Dangers of a Sick
School," an informational meeting presented Thursday by the Coalition for
Safe Schools at The Boardwalk at Hilton Head Beach & Tennis Resort.
Jeff Kitter, a Hilton Head Elementary School parent and member of the Coalition
for Safe Schools, said that though his son has received a "great education"
at the school, he has suffered from chronic colds and even bacterial pneumonia.
After he tested his home for mold with a "Do-it-yourself" kit and
found it to be clear in September, he decided to test the school. Kitter said
Teachers placed Petri dishes in their classrooms, and then he had the Tennessee
Mold Lab test the dishes.
The results indicated high levels of mold in almost every classroom tested.
After hearing about the tests, the Beaufort County School District brought in
AAA Environmental, an independent consulting company from Spartanburg, to do
its own tests. The results will be presented November 11 in a public meeting.
John Williams, executive director of communications for the Beaufort County
School District, said the district is constantly monitoring indoor air quality.
"It's not that a parent brought this up and then we started paying attention
-- we are always paying attention," he said.
Williams also said he was very sorry that some students were sick, but that
the problem does not appear to be widespread.
"On average, Hilton Head Elementary has seen 11 sick students per day
out of almost 2,100 who attend daily," he said. "That seems to indicate
a remarkably healthy student body."
Paul Carstens, the school district's director of maintenance, said custodians
should be constantly checking for indicators of mold.
"My policy is that if you see a wet ceiling tile, report it, find the
source and fix it," he said.
Dr. George Graham, a micologist who is owner and CEO of Tennessee Mold Labs,
spoke at Thursday's meeting about indicators of mold and the problems that elevated
levels of mold can cause. Dizziness, irritability, headaches, itching, tremors,
vomiting and coughing are all common symptoms, he said.
Walt and Katherine Raczkowski, Battery Creek High School parents, said they
had trouble with mold in their home. The whole family was sick, Walt Raczkowski
said, and their daughter started taking Ritalin and had to wear glasses. Once
they fixed the problem, she was able to stop taking the medication.
Since their daughter has been at Battery Creek High School, her problems have
returned. Her attention span has "gone out the window" and her grades
have gone down, Katherine Raczkowski said.
"I believe if we could get her out of that environment, she would get
better," she said.
Graham said that many times a home or school can have elevated levels of mold
but not know because it is not visible.
"As a general rule," Graham said, "if you can see it, the hiding
places are full."
Fixing mold problems doesn't have to be expensive, he said, but it is important
to find the source of the problem, not just clean or cover the visible mold.
"If someone gets a splinter," Graham said, "it doesn't matter
how great the bandage is, you still have to get the splinter out."
Battery Creek High School is already in the process of fixing their mold problem,
cleaning and sealing ducts and getting ready to install an extensive dehumidifying
But the Raczkowskis said the anti-microbial paint they are using to seal the
ducts is only making things worse. When they went to the school for a parent-teacher
conference, Katherine Raczkowski had to leave because she became so dizzy from
"It invades your body," she said.
Williams said there had been some complaints about extra sensitivity to the
paint, so the district brought in the Occupational Saftey and Health Administration
Some parents at the meeting raised concerns over how the testing at Hilton
Head Elementary was handled by the school district. The rooms were cleaned before
they were tested, the parents said, and the air filters had been changed very
Carstens said the cleanings were no different than any other cleaning, and
the air filters were due to be changed. He said the filters have been changed
four times this year. The goal is to do it every two months, though the filters
are designed to last three months, he said.
The filters at Hilton Head Elementary School should have been changed earlier,
Carstens said, but the replacements were damaged. The district ordered new filters
and changed them when they arrived.
"I didn't want to wait another month," he said.
Graham said the tests should be conducted under "normal" conditions,
but changing the air filters would not change the test results substantially.
Title and other parents also expressed concerns about how long the laboratory
is taking to return the test results. The tests were taken in late September,
and the results will be presented in a public forum on Nov. 11 when recommendations
will be made about how to fix the problem.
Until then, Hilton Head Elementary School is "operating as best we can,"
said Mary Briggs, the school's principal.
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