ICS Magazine

Maine school shuts down after Stachybotrys found in air

September 4, 2001
A Maine school district is facing health issues following the sudden closing of an elementary school after the presence of toxic mold growth was found.

PORTLAND, Maine -- A Maine school district is facing health issues following the sudden closing of an elementary school after the presence of toxic mold growth was found, The Boston Globe reported.

The nearly 60-year-old Jack Elementary School, Portland's largest elementary school, has not opened for the new school year after the presence of Stachybotrys chartarum, a slimy green-black mold, was detected in the air. In recent years, the presence of Stachybotrys and other forms of 'toxic mold' has been relegated to a public health emergency status.

Since the closing, teachers at the school are concerned about any harm they may have suffered during their careers at Jack Elementary. According to Kathleen Casasa, president of the Portland Education Association, which represents most of Jack's teachers, concern runs over 20 years, as teachers have complained of ''any number'' of health effects that may be associated with the mold. These include cancerous tumors, miscarriages, nausea, neurological effects like confusion, and the amputation of a leg because of skin problems, and they are aggressively researching possible links to mold, Casasa said.

She also said she would ''not rule out'' a lawsuit against the school district.

In Maine, school closings because indoor air quality (IAQ) reports have occurred every other year, said Norman Anderson, research coordinator of the American Lung Association of Maine. But under the scrutiny that has accompanied the Stachybotrys scare, three have closed in the last 15 months.

Unless school districts have delayed basic repairs to the point where mold reached a crisis level, school closings shouldn't be necessary, said Mary Beth Smutts, regional air toxicologist for the Environmental Protection Agency. Instead, she recommended that school districts focus on preventive measures rather than universal Stachybotrys testing.

According to district Superintendent Mary Jo O'Connor, air quality complaints have been bandied about in the past. However, she said that an environmental testing service on Aug. 15 found traces of Stachybotrys in the air. She shut the facility down the following day following the recommendation of physician Susan Upham.

As has been reported by Commercial Floor Care, many experts believe the threat of Stachybotrys has been overblown by media reports and lawsuits. Lawsuits against insurance companies in recent years have shown the toxic mold problem in the face of families, who contend that Stachybotrys made their houses so dangerous that they simply had to walk out, abandoning their possessions. Melinda Ballard was recently awarded $32 million for mold damage to her 22-room Texas mansion. A student in Chicago this spring filed a class action lawsuit against his school district, and more recently, three teachers in Ohio each sued their school district for $2 million.