Moldy classrooms: Live 5 investigates the mold hiding behind classroom walls
CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - A Live 5 News investigation into the possibly toxic environment your child spends hours a day in shows teachers, principals, and school officials are sending in hundreds of work orders a year to district officials requesting help to clean up the mold in their school.
The Berkeley County School District and the Charleston County School District had thousands of work orders relating to mold over the last several years.
Several schools show repeated claims. Not all these claims were substantiated, but many of them were.
A CCSD teacher wrote to maintenance,“Evidence of mold in the child development classes. Had an asthma attack after being in the room two minutes. We have several work orders regarding air quality in the building. Several people are getting sick with symptoms of headaches, earaches, breathing issues, chest pains, and itchy eyes.”
Dorchester District 2 had fewer requests for mold cleanup over the last few years, but several teachers did write into maintenance alleging their breathing and health was compromised because of mold.
“My room needs to be checked for mold,” a DD2 teacher wrote in a work order. “On three sperate days, I had to clean mold from the desks and chairs in my room and each day the rag was black.”
The complaints going to district officials come from people who all believe the problem is mold hiding behind classroom walls.
"I have a student requesting Ms. [redacted]’s room be tested for mold. She has asthma and has had several attacks in the teacher's room and thinks the room has mold," a BCSD staff member wrote in a work order request.
Thousands of orders show complaints for mold growing on books, desks, walls, the floor, and in cabinets.
“Mold can affect our respiratory track and trigger different symptoms like coughing, congestion, sneezing and it is also possible to ingest mold and that can be variable in symptoms,” Dr. Carolyn Word, an allergist and immunologist for Charleston Allergy said.
"Teacher has been diagnosed with severe asthma and is highly allergic to mold and mildew. District provided humidifier but it has not helped," a BCSD staff member wrote in a work order request.
“We have had patients, young patients, that are worried about it in a school environment or day care setting,” Word said. “So it’s not just one location that is always the most prominent.”
Word said they see a lot of patients who are allergic to mold, and patients that have mold exposure either in school or their work environment. Word said there is more mold outside than inside but it will affect you differently.
“The exposure is going to feel more concentrated. The scent of the mold becomes more prominent because it is locked into that area, where as outdoors there is more mold in general. It has a greater area to disburse,” Word said. “Even if you’re not allergic to mold, mold does act as an irritant to the airways symptoms even if you don’t have the mold allergy.”
“We take it very seriously,” said Ron Kramps, the executive director of Facilities Maintenance and Asset Management for CCSD. “My environmental officer goes and looks at every single reported case of mold.”
Kramps said CCSD gets about 47,000 work orders every year but said fewer than one percent of those work orders are for mold. Kramps said the mold work orders they do get are inevitable.
“It’s impossible to remove the mold and mold spores from the indoor environment,” Kramps said. “The thing you have to try and do is eliminate the water source.”
Some of the work orders coming in are for reoccurring schools.
Live 5 News noticed a trend with Goodwin Elementary in the Charleston County School District and with Westview Middle in the Berkeley County School District.
State Representative Chandra Dillard also noticed a trend when looking through documents Live 5 News obtained.
“This one has a real track record. Oh my goodness,” Dillard said when she noticed reoccurring issues at Goodwin.
Dillard wants to make sure schools and public buildings are healthy and safe. That’s why she filed a bill to see if South Carolina could benefit from having a mold remediation bill and be the 12th state to regulate mold.
“We really don’t have any good remediation standards. We don’t even have any regulations really claiming it,” Dillard said. “I talked to DHEC and this is what we have on mold, we got a one sheeter.”
DHEC’s sheet lists the public health effects of mold exposure but doesn’t lay out state guidelines on how to clean it up.
“We aren’t solving the problem and if we’re not going to invest in our institutional structures that the state owns, because we are liable for people’s health and well-being, then we need to tackle this issue. Just at least we need to explore it and I think to turn a blind eye when things are occurring, and reoccurring is not the answer,” Dillard said.
In CCSD, Kramps said people assume they are doing a temporary fix when painting over mold, but he said that’s all part of the repair.
“If there’s a work order that says we have mold on the wall or something like that and it’s done a little bit of damage, we’ll go and remediate that and after we’ve made a repair we will go back and repaint it,” Kramps said. “So sometimes people will misinterpret that as painting over a mold problem when we’re really not.”
Kramps said they look for the root of the problem and have been addressing it by fixing windows, roofs, and stormwater drains. Kramps said their plan of attack has been working.
“I do think that they are doing probably the very best they can because I know they don’t want children sick and they don’t want teachers sick,” Dillard said. “That’s non-productive for both parties.”
“We have about 140 [work orders] right now but in the years past we had 250, 300, 350,” Kramps said. “We’ve seen a steady decrease in the number of mold work orders over the last few years. We think the multi-faceted program that we got in place is working in appears to be working.”
Dillard hopes a plan on the state level will also help.
“Nobody wanted to deal with asbestos we finally realize the impact of health on it and now we know how to remediate that,” Dillard said. “I think this may be Mold’s time because it is getting more pervasive.”
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