District: Potentially Hazardous Mold is Discovered, Removed from Elementary School Trailer in the Heights
The school district has removed potentially hazardous mold from a trailer at P.S. 28 in the Heights and was conducting air monitoring at press time to verify that students could safely return, according to district spokeswoman Paula Christen.
“A company came on site Thursday to take air samples,” Christen told JCI. “The students will temporarily remain in the school until we’re certain the problem has been abated.”
Children were removed from the elementary school’s trailer in mid-September when the problem was first confirmed, Christen said. The discovery triggered testing of the mold and a complete renovation of the trailer in anticipation of students’ return.
Two pre-K classes of 15 students each were held in the trailers before the mold was found, according to Christen.
Christen said the initial analysis was performed by PTI Environmental Services and “found water infiltration and some mold” resulting from the wetness — a condition that eventually triggered a cleanup involving the company IRS Environmental. The cost of the cleanup was not immediately available. At a Board of Education meeting last month, a parent noted that he and other parents volunteered their services in cleaning out the trailer so the problem could eventually be eliminated.
Assemblyman Sean Connors (D-33), a former board member, attended the meeting after being contacted by concerned parents in the Heights. He presented trustees a letter urging them to investigate the situation and take immediate action, and also said he would do what he could to eventually eliminate all trailers in the district through measures such as lease agreements with vacant building owners. Trailers are used because of overcrowding.
According to an online advisory from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, indoor mold develops through tiny airborne spores, invisible to the naked eye, which can accumulate in areas of significant moisture. A heavy accumulation can trigger adverse reactions from people with allergies and asthma, as well as coughing, wheezing, itching, watery eyes and congestion. It can lead to severe respiratory ailments for those most susceptible, including those with compromised immune systems. The advisory notes that the source or sources of wetness should be abated immediately.
“My office has been contacted by numerous parents who have expressed major concerns after hearing that there is a ‘mold’ condition that currently exists at Trailer 502 in the courtyard,” Connor wrote in his letter to the board. “I strongly feel it is of the utmost importance that the Board of Education conduct their own investigation/testing into this matter immediately. We need to put our children and staff as priority when it comes to health concerns that have known or unknown health risks.”
A document attached to the assemblyman’s letter from the Florida-based test lab ProLabs/SSPTM, Inc. cites detection of five kinds of mold, including Penicillum, a common mold associated with allergies such as hay fever and asthma, as well as hypersensitivity pneumonitis (lung tissue inflammation); Trichoderma, described as capable of causing the same types of health issues; and non-sporulating fungi, which can cause health problems that “can potentially be allergenic, irritating or cause hypersensitivity peneumonitis and dermatitis”; aspergillus, described as “a very common indoor and outdoor mold, one of the most common types found worldwide”; and gladosporum, which, the report says is “probably the most common spore type in the air worldwide.”
The report recommends individuals with persistent health problems that appear to be related to mold seek referrals from their doctors to medical personnel expert in the area of mold exposure.
Christen noted that, after conducting the tests and performing subsequent mold abatement, the district immediately moved to renovate the trailer and eliminate the source of the moisture so it can be reoccupied.
“PTI found the source of the water infiltration and we’ve made the necessary repairs,” she explained. “We’ve replaced the carpeting and put in new furnishings. We’re making sure the students will return to the safest possible environment so the problem is not repeated.”
A P.S. 28 receptionist took a message to leave with a representative of the school’s Parents Council for comment. The call was not returned.
Connors said it appears the district is making progress, but cautioned, “I will not be satisfied until the school’s teachers, administrators and parents are 100 percent satisfied that the hazard has been completely eliminated.”
He said the situation should encourage the board to heed the importance of periodically monitoring all facilities for such potential issues. “I would hope that is the case now but I don’t have enough information on that,” he said. “I just hope this wasn’t a matter that, for whatever reason, was simply overlooked.”
A source in the district who asked not to be named noted that it funded the original lab tests Connors cited once the problem was identified. The person also assured JCI that all district sites — trailers and buildings — are periodically checked for potential mold problems.
Ultimately, Connors said it was his desire “to get all of our students out of trailers” and back inside school buildings. He promised to aggressively lobby the Archdiocese of Newark to consider leasing to the district unused former Catholic school buildings that have been shuttered due to budget cuts.
Top photo courtesy of the Jersey City Board of Education; trailer at P.S. 28 by Jennifer Weiss