Officials wait ‘toxic mold’ test results at local school

Stachybotrys atra mold discovered April 24

By:David Koch
   FLORENCE — School officials on Tuesday relocated students from basement classes at the Roebling School again while they await the results of tests to determine if a recent cleanup of a so-called "toxic mold" at the school was successful.
   The move came in response to concerns voiced by parents and teachers at a presentation given Monday night on the recent environmental analysis and cleanup done at the school. A type of mold called Stachybotrys atra was discovered there April 24.
   Children were allowed back inside the basement classrooms on Monday for the first time since the mold was discovered, but after listening to parents and teachers’ concerns at the meeting, school officials relocated the children again Tuesday because tests results were not yet back from samples taken after the cleanup.
   Monday night’s presentation was made by Mary Lee Morinelli, environmental consultant and president of Coastal Environmental Compliance of Pleasantville, who discovered the mold on a basement ceiling tile at the Roebling school last week. The area was then cleaned by Guardian Air Care Indoor Air Pure Systems of Freehold.
   Officials said wipe samples were taken of the basement after the cleanup, which would be available in seven to 10 days.
   Although students in basement classes were not in those classes while the mold was cleaned, parents said they were concerned students were allowed to return to basement classes Monday before the second round of test results had returned.
   "We will move the two classes (out of the basement), although it is an inconvenience, but it is a minor inconvenience until we are assured kids are safe," said Superintendent Gerard Steffe during the presentation on Monday night.
   Roebling officials said students were moved out of the basement again Tuesday in response to parents’ concerns. Board Secretary Bruce Benedetti said he assumes students will not be allowed to return until the Board of Education reviews the post-cleanup basement samples.
   The recent environmental study of the school was conducted after Bobby Fielder, a local parent, and Dr. Stanley Lane, an allergist in Moorestown, said they believed the school was causing Mr. Fielder’s 6-year-old son to have repeated flu-like symptoms. Mr. Fielder said his son would have flu-like symptoms, recover at home and then get sick again once he returned to school. Mr. Fielder said at the meeting that his son also suffered from vomiting.
   "Generally, mold is not going to cause you to throw up…one spot of mold does not a sick building make," said Ms. Morinelli.
   "That tile is not the problem," said Mr. Fielder. "There is a bigger problem here."
   Although results from wipe samples are still pending, Ms. Morinelli said she did not find any other visible sign of Stachybotrys atra and the basement ceiling tile was disposed.
   The National Centers for Disease Control’s Web site says the hazards of "toxic molds" (those containing mycotoxins) such as Stachybotrys atra are the same as other common molds, which can cause allergy symptoms and respiratory problems.
   Officials also said they tested and removed all other ceiling tiles in the building that showed water damage.
   "We are going to continue to be more vigilant and we’ve already taken down a lot of tiles," said Mr. Benedetti. "We’re going to be doing more testing."
   Environmental tests at Roebling also were conducted in 1994, 1995 and 1997 after teachers complained of health problems resulting from something in the school.
   Roebling School was built in 1914 with an addition constructed in 1924.
   The current environmental study followed an investigation on March 29 of the school by Ramm Environmental Studies on March 29. A presentation on the report was originally scheduled for April 22, but was delayed due to the discovery of the mold by Ms. Morinelli.
   Roebling teacher Susan Bassett said many of those who complained of illness were located near the school’s library in the basement. "I would just encourage you to go one step further and look inside the (library) walls," said Ms. Bassett to the school board.
   Mr. Benedetti said the school board is planning a third wave of testing after the sample test results come back. "We’re talking with the consultant about doing some selective testing," said Mr. Benedetti.
   He also said testing will be done to the library walls.
   Mr. Benedetti said after the meeting that testing will continue until December. He also said that testing and cleaning so far has cost the school board $25,000.
   During the presentation, Ms. Morinelli said district staff has cleaned all floors, surfaces and carpets in the basement with a bleach solution.
   Mr. Benedetti also said the entire school will be cleaned with a bleach solution over the next couple of weeks.
   Unit ventilators also will be cleaned with a fungicidal agent once school officials determine the best way to clean without disrupting classes.
   Florence Mayor Michael Muchowski said at Monday night’s meeting that this problem was not just a school issue, but a community issue.
   "We will combine the resources of the town with the school board if that will help expedite the process, but if the grass is a little higher, please give me a break," said Mayor Muchowski.