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Mold discovered at Northern Middle School

July 14, 2009|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

HAGERSTOWN -- Mold was discovered on the underside of the roof at Northern Middle School while crews were working to replace ceiling tiles in June, according to Washington County Public Schools spokesman Richard Wright.

Wright said he does not know whether the mold is dangerous, but said it will be removed by the time school begins in August. Crews began removing mold July 1.

Wright said he did not know how long the mold was present in the building or how much was found, but pointed out that environmental testing showed there was more mold outside the building than inside.

"After finding the mold and testing the building, (we found) no significant concentrations of mold spores," Wright said.

Mold is caused by moisture and can cause health problems, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Web site, www.epa.gov. Molds have caused allergic reactions and irritations to the eyes, skin, nose, throat and lungs, the EPA states.

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Wright said he did not know whether anyone had become sick because of the mold.

The mold was discovered during work the week of June 14, Wright said. A letter was sent from Washington County Public Schools to Northern Middle faculty, staff, parents and others on June 30, letting them know about the mold.

Wright said Tuesday that he did not know what specific type of mold was found at Northern Middle School.

Washington County Public Schools asked The Herald-Mail to submit a Freedom of Information Act request for documents related to environmental studies and contracts for the mold abatement work. The request for that information was filed Monday, and Wright said information on the type of mold found at Northern Middle would be included in those documents.

The mold abatement process includes vacuuming the substance with a HEPA vacuum, which has a more powerful filter than a typical vacuum, Wright said.

"Then they use a mildewcide, fungicide and spray that on the underside of the roof," he said. "That takes care of any mold left behind from the vacuuming."

Teachers, administrators and others have been moved out of Northern Middle, primarily because of the school's lighting project, which is being completed along with the mold abatement, Wright said.

Staff members have not been moved out of the building because of the mold, he said.

"Throughout this project, the air is being monitored, and once the project is complete, it will be monitored again before school opens and throughout the year," Wright said.

An environmental consulting firm was hired for $70,000 to do air-quality testing at and around Northern Middle School, and lab testing, Wright said. The school system has another contract for $282,000 with Asbestos Specialists Inc. to remove the mold, he said.

That company is not doing any asbestos removal or work at the school, Wright said.

He said the Washington County Board of Education did not vote to approve those contracts because they were signed under an emergency provision that allows Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan to sign off on some contracts without their approval.

"It was an emergency because (we are) in the midst of an extensive project in the school and wanted to take care (of the mold) while we had the ceiling tiles down," Wright said.

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