The problem of mold in schools
Today was the first day of school for my daughter and many schools across Canada and the US. I feel lucky that my daughter goes to a terrific school with wonderful teachers and an historic building that has been well maintained.
This is not the case for for all kids. In fact a recent study done by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found an estimated 50 percent of U.S. schools have problems associated with poor indoor air quality, mostly due to mold and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs).
If mold is growing in a classroom, some kids will not be affected at all. Others, however, might experience flu-like symptoms such as runny noses, coughing and breathing difficulties.
Some types of mold emit toxins that can elicit more severe responses. For example, Aspergillus and Stachybotrys (Black Mold), which have forced the closure many schools across the country, have been linked to lung and respiratory infections. Children are especially vulnerable, health experts say, because their organs are still developing and they take in more air relative to their body size than adults.
Because it is hard to predict how any one person will react, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and U.S. Department of Environmental Protection suggest that all mold and mildew should be treated as toxic and that mold removal should begin immediately.
Why does mold grow in schools?
We find mold in schools when mold spores are given the right circumstances to grow. Moisture is needed for mold to grow. Portable classrooms tend to be most susceptible. Leaking pipes, cracked foundations or poor drainage are just a few examples.
Every school has its own potential for moisture exposure including:
- Flat roofs that leak.
- Poor drainage around the school
- Inadequate maintenance budgets
- Schools being sealed up tight to save on energy costs.
- Schools shutting off the air conditioners during the summer months
- Poor heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) systems
- Water leaks or floods not being dried-up within 48 hours.
How to keep mold under control in schools
Moisture control is the key to controlling mold growth in schools.
- Schedule inspections for moisture, leaks and signs of mold.
- Inform maintenance people of water leaks immediately.
- Any porous building materials should be dried within twenty four hours after becoming wet.
- Indoor relative humidity should be kept below 50%:
- Make sure any rooms that are moisture-prone are ventilated to the outside (bathrooms, locker rooms).
- Use dehumidifiers and air conditioners
- Any porous material that has become wet should likely be discarded before mold can grow.
- Do not instal carpets near fountains or sinks and fountains.
- Insulate water pipes to prevent condensation.