Sullivan East mold woes not just an isolated experience
By Sam Watson
Press Education Writer
Sullivan East High School's mold-inspired stay at Bristol Motor Speedway has
increased awareness about the need for mold testing and moisture control in
other area school districts.
"I'm getting more educated on this, just like everybody else," Kevin Ward, middle
school supervisor for the Carter County School System, said Friday.
Sullivan County officials shut down Sullivan East Oct. 4 after potentially dangerous
stachybotrys, also known as "black mold," was found in a classroom. Classes
resumed Oct. 14 in the speedway's skyboxes for a temporary stay during mold
Tennessee Education Commissioner Faye Taylor toured "BMS High" Friday and called
on all school systems to make environmental issues a priority. She said Sullivan
East's mold problem unfortunately was not an isolated case.
"It's happening all across the nation," Taylor said. "It's happening all across
The commissioner said she was trying to get a good feel for how extensive mold
problems were among Tennessee schools.
"We want to make sure that our directors of schools are aware of this issue
and also that they understand that communities can come together to solve this
problem very quickly and very positively," she said. "The one thing we don't
want to do is ignore the situation."
Taylor said her staff was working on guidelines and procedures for mold investigations
and abatement in schools. The state Department of Environment and Conservation's
Air Pollution Control Division does not regulate mold but offers testing and
abatement suggestions for houses, schools and other facilities.
"I've been doing quite a bit of personal research on this issue, and I find
that the EPA (the federal Environmental Protection Agency) does not even regulate
some of these issues," Taylor said. "Right now, we're going to provide as much
guidance and information to our local school systems as we possibly can.
"But we really don't have any jurisdiction to go in and tell them what they
must do at this point," she said.
Some local school systems, however, had developed their own procedures for handling
moisture and mold issues, some of which were in place before Sullivan East's
troubles became public.
"We try to keep a close eye on it," Washington County Schools Director Grant
Rowland said, adding that schools had experienced occasional moisture problems
from roof leaks and heavy air conditioning condensation, but never the black
mold found at Sullivan East.
He said maintenance crews regularly replace damaged or stained ceiling tiles
and check condensation drip pans to prevent mold growth. Replacements and repairs
have kept Washington County's school roofs in shape, Rowland said, and schools
have had adequate air circulation, as well.
Leslie Storie, maintenance supervisor for the Johnson City School System, said
whenever stains or spots appear on ceiling tiles, crews replace the tiles when
students are not present. Moisture sensors had been installed in classrooms,
he said, and problems had been solved by simultaneously running both heating
and air conditioning systems.
"It's expensive to do that, but it takes the moisture right down," Storie said.
The city's biggest moisture issues were found in one of Fairmont Elementary
School's classroom buildings. Storie said although no mold or mildew was ever
found, the classrooms had a constant smell of mildew, so crews replaced carpet
with tile and increased outside air intake.
"That seems to have solved the problem," Storie said.
In Carter County, Ward said after the news broke about Sullivan East, the school
system's maintenance supervisor surveyed schools to determine any outstanding
problems, immediately developed a protocol for investigation and responded to
complaints at two schools.
One complaint involved a leaking sink in a portable kindergarten classroom,
he said, and the other involved moisture-swollen cabinet doors. The administration
photographed the affected areas at both schools and ordered air samples to determine
Ward said tests indicated that neither location had spore levels anywhere near
those considered dangerous. Kindergarten students were temporarily relocated
as crews repaired the portable classroom, he said, and increased air intake
solved the other school's problem.
As for Sullivan East, Schools Director John O'Dell said he expected the school's
BMS stay to last another one or two weeks. A report due in the middle of next
week should indicate when the school would be ready for occupancy, he said,
and the move would take place over a weekend.
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