"Studies show that one-half of our nation’s schools have problems linked to indoor air quality."(EPA)
NM Judge: Parent can look for mold in GHS
Photo from krqe.com
This very persistent, well-organized parent effort has paid off in New Mexico! A judge has "ordered the Roswell Independent School District to open its doors so a concerned parent (Paul Taylor) could look for mold" (krqe.com). The Center for School Mold Help has provided encouragement, supportive information, and contacts to this suffering school community, whose children and school staff we are concerned about, and we are well-pleased with the decision of the court. We heartily commend Mr. Paul Taylor III, who has led this battle out of concern for all of Goddard's students, after his daughter fell ill while attending GHS. Read / listen to these articles and the most recent parent group press release below (SMH).
from the Roswell Daily Record, Voice of the Pecos Valley (NM), Online
A Roswell judge quashed the Roswell Independent School District's motion to dismiss a lawsuit by the Taylor family on Friday.
The Taylors allege that toxic mold at Goddard High School made their daughter Paige sick. They hope to force the district to let them hire an expert to test the school's air. Four studies have been done so far, but the Taylors believe that the three tests that have been released are all flawed or inadequate. The latest air quality test was run last week.
Tony Ortiz, the attorney representing Superintendent Mike Gottlieb and GHS Principal Andrew Sweet, argued that case precedent barred private citizens from usurping the power of school board officials.
"(Paul Taylor III) invites this court down a dangerous path," Ortiz said. He argued that it was only a few small steps between a lawsuit like the Taylors', and a concerned citizen demanding to be permitted to make school personnel decisions.
Ortiz claimed Taylor was effectively saying, "I am now the super-superintendent, I am now the super-School Board all rolled into one."
Ortiz also argued that an injunction was necessary only in cases where there is ongoing risk of permanent harm and no other legal remedy is available. He noted that Paige transferred to Roswell High School, and while the Taylors' lawyers said there may be risk that she could develop long-term neurological problems, they admitted they couldn't say so yet. Ortiz also pointed out that the Taylors could sue for damages, but have chosen not to.
"This is a textbook example of the kind of situation in which injunctive relief should not be granted," Ortiz said.
The Taylors' lawyer, Lonnie Chunn, said the court's will could supersede the School Board's authority because they have acted irresponsibly. He said that the school has not done a thorough job of testing on its own, and misrepresented the results of the tests it has.
"They say that (they) had the school tested three times, and these tests reveal that the air quality of the school is good," Chunn said.
But Chunn said the tests show mold spore levels higher than the outdoors, and each test includes a disclaimer that the testing company cannot say whether the building is safe.
Chunn also accused the defendants of altering a lab report. He claimed that Gottlieb ordered an employee to add a passage to a report saying that all samples were within recommended limits.
Through Ortiz, Gottlieb told the court that he had not intended to alter the report, but merely to add an explanation of the findings, and the passage was given to the Taylors' lawyers by accident. Ortiz said statements that the school is safe came from conversations between the testers and school officials.
Not having a test that the Taylors consider accurate could, Chunn argued, potentially make it more difficult for Paige to get the most effective treatment.
"(Gottlieb and Sweet are) not concerned about the safety of Paige Taylor. ... What they're concerned about is the effect that this may have, the position, the very difficult situation this may put the school district in," Chunn said. "What this is really about is the safety and well-being of Paige Taylor, the safety and well-being of all the other students at that school."
"I know they have taken on the cloak of every student at Goddard High School," Ortiz responded, "but there is only one plaintiff in this lawsuit."
Ortiz said he was offended by Chunn's accusations that the defendants are disregarding students' safety.
"(Gottlieb) just wants this to be right with the kids involved, so I take umbrage to the statements made that these people don't care," he said.
He pointed out that the district had one test done after the Taylors complained, and two more when the family was skeptical of the results. He said that the Taylors would only be happy with the test they did themselves.
Before making a ruling, Judge Thomas Rutledge asked Chunn if Taylor would agree to invasive tests of his home and vehicle for mold. Taylor nodded his assent.
Rutledge said he realized that treading on the School Board's power was a slippery slope, but he was not willing to dismiss the case before a full trial.
"Everyone's decision, everyone's exercise of discretion, is ultimately reviewable," he said. "When we're dealing with a young person's life, the court is going to be abundantly cautious."
The court also ruled on the Taylors' demand to inspect Goddard as part of discovery.
"We don't believe that this is the ultimate test that we are seeking," said plaintiffs' attorney David Harris. "We're trying to get (into Goddard), and be with our experts so we can see what the issues are."
Harris was also concerned about potential evidence that might be destroyed by cleaning up the mold in the auto shop, saying the effort could ruin the chance to find out what toxins affected Paige.
"This case is fundamentally and most importantly about finding what made Paige sick," he said.
Ortiz said there was a disagreement about what kind of inspection should be allowed, and asked the judge to set guidelines.
"What are fair parameters for the plaintiffs to come in that don't surrender the ultimate remedy in this case?" he asked.
As for the evidence, he said, "I can't ignore sort of the circular nature of the strange request here. ... They're attacking us for practicing what they ultimately wanted us to do."
If the court approved the injunction and the Taylors' tests found nothing but a clean and healthy school, he said, "we've only beaten them to the remedy that they want."
Nonetheless, Ortiz promised that the school preserved samples of all the potentially relevant materials it removed.
Rutledge said the Taylors and their team could inspect the school visually and take video footage as long as they do not disrupt classes. He told the school district to keep preserving evidence, but said it is the Taylors' responsibility to store it. If the plaintiffs demand invasive inspections, he said he will hold a separate hearing, and is inclined to make the Taylors put up a bond for any damage to the building.
He said that the visual inspection should take place before the end of the school year.
Press Release by GHS Air (Parent Group):
ROSWELL, NEW MEXICO – APRIL 28, 2009 – In a report recently posted on the Roswell Independent School District web site, mold levels found in the Auto Shop room and adjacent areas at Goddard High School are similar to levels described by the National Resource Defense Council as “dangerously uninhabitable” in homes damaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
The New Mexico Department of Health recommended implementation of the EPA’s Tools for Schools in a January 23, 2009, letter the RISD after the Department of Health was contacted regarding potential mold exposure at Goddard High School, which raised various health concerns.
Although the RISD has not publicized the Tools for Schools report, it has been posted on their web site.
According to the Indoor Air Quality Tools for School Program Findings report dated April 20, 2009, compiled by Matthew Baca, program coordinator at the University of New Mexico, the Goddard High School auto shop facility mold issue began when moisture accumulation from severe roof leaks created a fertile environment for mold growth in and around the auto shop. At the time of the walkthrough, the auto shop area was in the final stages of an extensive mold remediation effort. The mold issue at Goddard High School generally has resulted in litigation, a petition drive, news coverage and, understandably, a heightened level of concern from parents, students and staff.
The report states that, according to the district’s maintenance supervisor, David Eldridge, the leaking occurred at the school in 2006, with the new roof placed on the school in 2007. Mold was first detected in an unoccupied storage space adjacent to the auto shop. As remediation efforts commenced it was found that the mold had spread beyond the storage area into the walls of the auto shop, a restroom, locker room, an office and beneath a stairwell.
The Tools for Schools report states that subsequent to the walkthrough, the school provided mold test results from samples taken by Havona Environmental, Inc. on January 26, 2009 and sent to EMLab P&K in Phoenix, Arizona for analysis. The analysis showed total fungal spore counts in samples taken in the auto shop restroom at 12,000 per cubic meter, which were mostly penicillium/aspergillus with a count of 11,000 per cubic meter. Two bulk sheetrock samples were at 480,000 per cubic meter and 600,000 per cubic meter per sample.
After removal of the sheetrock, subsequent test samples taken on February 9, 2009, showed total fungal spore counts in the locker room adjacent to the auto shop at 19,000 per cubic meter (18,000 was penicillium/aspergillus) and in the office at 13,000 per cubic meter (12,000 was penicillium/aspergillus).
These numbers of mold levels are similar to those found in damaged homes after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. (According to a press release issued by the National Resource Defense Council - http://www.nrdc.org/media/pressreleases/051228.asp).
In testing contracted by RISD during the summer of 2008, aspergillus/penicillium was also discovered in other areas of the school. The Rhoades Environmental report states that “all molds may be allergenic and potentially toxic, but Aspergillus, Penicillium, Chaetomium, Fusarium, and Stachybotrys are of particular concern. These are knows respiratory irritants and may produce mycotoxins and endotoxins that may cause health issues.”
The National Resource Defense Council was involved in mold testing and concerns after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, LA, in 2005.
According to the National Resource Defense Council, recent scientific studies consider houses with indoor mold spore counts higher than 1,300 spores per cubic meter (spores/m3) to be "moldy homes" that can cause health problems. (According to a press release issued by the National Resource Defense Council - http://www.nrdc.org/media/pressreleases/051228.asp).
In October of 2005, the NRDC team found extremely high mold spore levels in a flooded house in Mid-City that still had moldy furniture, carpets and drywall in place. The house had mold spore concentrations of 650,000 per cubic meter (spores/m3), which would render it dangerously uninhabitable.
In October and November of 2005, the NRDC team tested air quality in three homes that had been partially cleaned up. Contaminated furniture and carpeting had been removed, as had some moldy drywall. Other walls had been scrubbed with bleach. These houses had average mold spore concentrations of 377,000 per cubic meter (spores/m3), still dangerously high.
The NRDC reported that mold growing on damp surfaces releases spores that can be inhaled. Some molds also produce chemicals known at mycotoxins that may be dangerous to humans. Mold can cause congestion, sneezing, runny or itchy nose, and throat irritation; more serious symptoms include major allergic attacks, cough, asthma attacks, and hypersensitivity pneumonitis (a pneumonia-like illness that causes breathing difficulty and fever).
In the flooded houses tested by NRDC, the dominant mold types were Aspergillus/Penicillium, some species of which are known to cause health problems.
Experts say that anyone doing clean-up or debris removal in a moldy environment should wear nitrile gloves, a respirator (such as an N95 or N100 mask), safety glasses, shoe covers, and a Tyvek suit over clothing. Decreasing indoor moisture is the most critical factor for controlling mold growth. Windows and doors should be opened for ventilation, and fans can be used to provide additional air flow. Dehumidifiers also may help prevent further mold growth.
The NRDC advised Hurricane Katrina victims that all non-cleanable items that have been wet for more than two days or that have visible mold should be thrown away. Non-cleanable items include mattresses, carpeting and carpet padding, rugs, stuffed animals, upholstery, wallpaper, drywall, floor and ceiling tiles, insulation material, clothing, leather, paper, soft plastics, and wood. Mold-covered drywall is definitely not salvageable, and the most recent NRDC test samples suggest that seriously flooded structures need to be stripped to the studs.
NRDC's tests did not evaluate different types of treatment for stopping mold growth in the studs themselves. In addition, the group cannot ensure that mold will not eventually grow back in fully gutted homes.
Although the RISD has conducted multiple tests by different companies, the Auto Shop area was never identified as a potential concern or suspect in those tests. It was not until invasive testing was done that the “dangerously uninhabitable” levels of mold were discovered and made public. This potentially serious situation has been untouched since 2006, according to David Eldridge. Goddard High was constructed in 1965 as both a school and a bomb shelter, and most of the classrooms are currently underground.
For additional information please visit www.ghsair.org.
More SMH info about Goddard High School, Roswell, NM :