Has your school district conducted testing, proclaimed the building to be safe, and the molds to be common varieties that are found everywhere, with no elevated levels? Are you feeling that these results do not correlate with the number of sick people, your physician's opinion, nor your own symptoms when exposed to the building?
Are there people in your school who are experiencing respiratory, immunological, infectious, or neurological symptoms, who feel they are sick from the building? Is there a chance it is damp or water-damaged? Do you see any evidence of mold? How to recognize this scenario and know what may be occurring behind the scenes ... read our article, below!
UPDATE TO THIS ARTICLE: Proof of current or past indoor dampness and/or water-damage to a building is enough to demonstrate a danger to health, per (2009) WHO guidelines for indoor air quality : dampness and mould (Health Effects chapter).
District Mold Testing
UPDATE: With the advent of the (2009) WHO guidelines for indoor air quality : dampness and mould, it is no longer necessary to test for mold alone - demonstration of water-damage or dampness (or a past history of same) is enough to show that the building is likely to produce health effects in both healthy and people with some underlying medical conditions. Companies hired to test for mold may be using outdated "1990's and early 2000's" measurement of mold, ignorant of (or ignoring) the new findings. WHO states that indoor dampness elevates the growth of molds and bacteria, that none are safe, and further, causes emissions of toxic chemicals from man-made materials within the buildings. All of these mix together in the indoor environment, producing additional, hazardous compounds. Therefore, no one factor is identified as making people ill - there can be thousands of factors in a damp building, with indoor dampness as the common denominator and cause. Claiming that damp indoor spaces are safe is false, based on the highest authorities - per World Health Organization, US EPA, US CDC, NIOSH, NIH, and US OSHA.
Visit the Ethics Code for Certified Industrial Hygienists (CIH's) to learn what Industrial Hygienists are required to do by their association.
Mold investigations may be conducted by private IAQ companies, Industrial Hygienists, Risk Managers, Facilities Managers or local health departments, at the request of school districts. Caution should be used with choosing or investigating companies to be hired - checking out references, Better Business Bureau checks, and state licensing requirements are essential.
It has been reported to the Center for School Mold Help (SMH), on numerous occasions, that district-contracted companies or health departments can find "no mold problems" and find "healthy air" whereupon further investigations or the level of illness of the occupants may indicate just the opposite. Some disreputable companies or even health departments may do a "pre-test" with the environment and methods of testing having been orchestrated to produce false results. Also, findings that do not reflect acceptable levels within the IAQ industry may be minimized or even not reported in the summary. We have learned of school reports where the spore counts of toxic molds were very high and it was described as a safe level. Companies and the districts that allow this may be held liable for endangering occupants. The focus should be on finding the dampness, molds, and/or bacteria that are present, the seriousness of the infestation, if one exists, protecting the occupants, and solving the problem.
If there are problems suspected with the testing, an experienced, independent third party with no conflicts of interest should be consulted by parents or the teachers' union. Self-testing may also be conducted by concerned individuals, go to our Resources - Self-testing area for more information.
UPDATE: A new type of self-testing to detect hidden molds and evaluate the building for elevated levels, developed by the US EPA, is called the ERMI (Environmental Relative Moldiness Index). Click here to learn more. Additional ERMI information may be found in our Resources - Self-testing area.
The US government has not established any safe levels, as research has shown that even low levels may be dangerous. US EPA and CDC direct the (safe) removal of mold, that no level should be tolerated indoors.
In general, historically, old-style testing by the IAQ industry is usually designed to compare the level and types of spores found inside to those outside. The theory that has been used in the IAQ industry is that if the levels inside are higher than outside, or if different types of molds are found inside than are found outside, there may be a problem. The industry itself has set various levels considered to be safe - in general, for most molds, the total spore count should be below 1,000 parts per cubic meter (total), and numerous countries have established standards well below this. With regard to certain problematic molds, like a toxic black mold, stachybotrys, which only grows where there are long-standing sources, it is not desirable to have any growing in a building - so no amount is acceptable. In addition, throughout their life cycles, molds produce toxins that become aerosolized, independently of the spores, but also found on the spores. Even low levels of these toxins and other chemicals are suspected to cause health effects, by many researchers and health authorities. Some mold toxins are carcinogenic, such as the trichothecenes, though research has been largely been limited to ingestion vs. inhalation.
Of note, if testing only includes air testing, much will be missed - for instance, stachybotrys, a common and deadly, toxic school mold, has heavy spores that are produced in wet conditions and are rarely airborne, thus, a dangerous stachybotrys infestation will usually be completely missed through air testing alone. Likewise, with surface sampling, tapelifts and swab samples, it matters where these are done. If not taken in the area where mold is likely to be growing (on organic surfaces or where moisture has been) these will inaccurately reflect the absence of mold.
Since finding mold is based on both motivation and expertise, it is imperative to have testing done by those who represent the interests of the occupants. Self-testing, using kits that can test the full range of molds, is an option to be a check and balance against the professional testing conducted, and the earlier in the process, the better. Self-test kits found in hardware stores (petri-dish types) often have a medium that does not allow all types of molds to grow in it. Therefore, some toxic molds may be missed. It is possible (2010) to test for the presence of certain mycotoxins (mold toxins) in the room, with self-testing and professional kits (see Banner on our Welcome page).
Observation of the test conditions by interested parties is important, if possible - note if the HVAC system is on/off (should have been on as usual), if the tests are done during vacation (not representative of school conditions), and if the room has been kept shut for two days prior to testing - often, in many schools we have heard of, it has been aired out or cleaned just prior to the testing (this invalidates the data, as the comparison between outside and inside can no longer be made, or the inside has been decontaminated temporarily). The outside comparison testing should be done away from bushes, bark chips, dumpsters and contaminated places - in the cleanest areas outside the school, near the building in question. Lastly, the air must be moving for the spore trap to catch it, about 4 feet above the level of the floor. A note to parents and teacher unions: always observe the testing methods with several observers present, and review the test protocols, whenever possible. Document these with video, photographs and a log. Obtain a full copy of the data and report, with full contact information for the person and company/health department conducting the testing.
There are a number of variables that interfere with accuracy - and it is our advice that interested parties should monitor the testing situation - be present and make a record - get the company's business card/info, worker's name, write down the time and place each measurement/test is taken, types of tests (air sampling, tape lift, swab) notes, photos, etc., as indicated. Many important decisions are going to be made based on these test results. Medical doctors, health officials, parents, teachers, administration - all rely on the accuracy and comprehensiveness of these tests. Some districts may not have a company test more than one or two rooms - many more are needed to be representative of the school site. Lastly, obtain a copy of the testing, when the report is in, under FOI and OSHA regulations, these must be provided to the public (under The Freedom of Information Act ) and workers. If there is a problem obtaining these, workers may call in OSHA to do an inspection also, and obtain these reports through OSHA. If any of the above checks and balances are not allowed by the district, or if old-school methods are utilized, beware of the test results.
It is entirely possible to have a clean bill of health for a school that is actually causing ill health and deaths, in some cases. This is disturbing, to say the least, and is the cause of extensive chronic illness in millions of children and school staff who occupy unhealthy schools on a weekly basis, never receiving adequate warnings about the environmental conditions that caused the illnesses. It is obvious that with federal mandates and regulations to effectively monitor the environmental health of schools, our nation's health problems would decrease and our schools could become safe places to send our children and work in. Right now, in the absence of laws with accountability built in, and no true protection for students and staff, that isn't the case.