By Stefanie Jackson
At Chincoteague High School, two rooms inspected earlier this month were found to have elevated levels of mold and required professional cleaning.
Room D6 contained a 3,147 count of penicillium/aspergillus per cubic meter and Room D9 had an 11,147 count of penicillium/aspergillus per cubic meter, both “elevated levels” of mold, the environmental report stated.
The concentration of mold in the air is measured by the number of colony-forming units (cfu) in one cubic meter of air.
According to the World Health Organization, a concentration of mold up to 499 cfu per cubic meter is low, between 500 and 999 cfu per cubic meter is moderate, and 1,000 or more cfu per cubic meter is high.
Each of the four rooms tested had higher concentrations of penicillium/aspergillus than any other mold.
The other two rooms, D5 and B12, contained a 453 count of penicillium/aspergillus per cubic meter and a 640 count of penicillium/aspergillus per cubic meter, respectively, within the low to moderate range. Those rooms were deemed “acceptable with no further cleaning required.”
Accomack County Public Schools Director of Operations Mike Tolbert reported that a qualified contractor completed the cleanup on Nov. 12.
Sussex Environmental Consultants, of Lewes, Del., was contracted to conduct the mold and moisture evaluation.
Four rooms were tested for mold in response to concerns about previous issues with humidity in those areas.
The environmental company collected air samples and sent them to Aerobiology Laboratories of Dulles, Va. The samples were examined under a microscope and up to nine types of mold or fungal particles were identified.
The molds detected were airborne particles such as spores, not surface molds that are visible to the naked eye.
Penicillium and aspergillus are often categorized together because their spores are indistinguishable without knowing their source.
Sussex Environmental Consultants recommended cleaning the rooms using a HEPA filtered air scrubber and having the air ducts in the rooms professionally cleaned by a company belonging to the National Air Duct Cleaning Association.
The company also recommended retesting the affected areas after cleaning to ensure the mold levels had been reduced.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, indoor humidity levels should be kept below 60 per-cent to discourage mold growth, and between 30 percent and 50 percent humidity is ideal.
No molds other than penicillium/aspergillus were detected at elevated levels. The next largest amount of mold particles found were low to moderate levels of basidiospores, spores produced by mushrooms and other common fungi.
According to the Mayo Clinic, the most common health issues associated with mold are allergies. A person who is allergic to mold can develop the same symptoms associated with other upper respiratory allergies, including sneezing, runny or stuffy nose, postnasal drip, coughing, watery or itchy eyes, itchy nose and throat, and dry, scaly skin.
Mold can trigger an asthma attack in people who have both mold allergies and asthma.
In some cases, mold exposure can cause an infection of the mucous membranes or skin.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cites inhaling aspergillus spores as a cause of a condition called aspergillosis. A person with a weak immune system or a chronic lung illness is more likely to develop aspergillosis.
None of the molds detected at the high school was related to stachybotrys chatarum, a black mold that can produce toxins that may cause rare health conditions.
The CDC states that “toxic mold” is a misnomer because mold itself is not toxic and the relationship between toxin-producing molds and certain health conditions is unproven.
Accomack schools Superintendent Chris Holland said the issues at Chincoteague High School will continue to be addressed and the health and safety of students and staff is a top priority.
By Stefanie Jackson