School officials expected air quality testing at Homestead Elementary to wrap up on Thursday, with results expected in about two weeks.

Until then, a classroom where black mold spores were discovered earlier this month remains closed to students and faculty, though cleaning and remediation has already been completed.

“We are trying to do everything we can to put people’s mind at ease,” Kacee Harris, chief financial officer, said. “If there’s a problem there, we want to know about it. 

“It was almost an instant decision to say test the whole school. If it’s there anywhere, we’re going to find it and we’re going to get it out.”

The cost for the expanded testing is $6,600.

The classroom is one of the original structures of the historic school, referred to as a “cottage.” The cottage classrooms are self-contained and have independent HVAC units. 

Over the summer, a new HVAC unit was installed.

“It had floor damage, and we replaced all of that,” Harris said. “We knew there had been some moisture issues with the old HVAC units. Once we replaced those, we wanted to make sure everything was OK.”

GEOServices, LLC of Knoxville, conducted the Jan. 27 tests that included samples from seven classrooms and two comparison samples from outside the school. 

Only one classroom showed the presence of black mold spores. 

When the school system received the results Feb. 6, Harris said they contacted the company to arrange for schoolwide testing and contacted ServPro to conduct a thorough cleaning and remediation of the classroom.

“Within two hours of getting the results, we have a mold remediation company onsite,” Harris said. “They were done today [Monday], but we’re not letting anyone back in there until we get the new test back.”

Cost for the environmental cleaning was $2,920.02. The remediation included a cleaning the HVAC and air scrubbing. The room was cleaned using a plant-based anti-microbial on windows, shelves, cabinetry, floors and walls and the contents of the room. 

The Environmental Protection Agency says molds can cause allergic reactions in sensitive individuals, with symptoms such as runny nose, red eyes, sneezing and skin rash. Research on mold and health effects is ongoing, the agency says on their website. 

There are no federal of EPA limits for mold or spores. Harris said the contractor said most spore counts above 50 to 200 spores per cubic meter represent an issue, except in the case of black mold. 

Black mold, also known as stachybotrys, is toxic to humans if inhaled, eaten or touched. It is often found in areas that have been exposed to standing water and it grows on material that is rich in cellulose, such as ceiling tiles, wallpaper, sheet rock or wallpaper.  

The sample from room 304 tested with 40 spores per cubic meters of air. 

GEOServices wrote in its report, “Due to the presence of Stachybotrys, GEOServices recommends occupants be removed from structure with Stachybotrys. In addition, the results of this report should be provided to the school health professional or appropriate persons that can assess the findings and possible health issues. The location of the Stachybotrys should be identified and removed by a professional certified to remediate mold.”

Other mold species found were aspergillus/pennicillium, with 47 spores per cubic meter; basidiospores, 67 spores per cubic meter; cladosporium species, 7 spores per cubic meter; and smuts/myxomycetes, 7 spores per cubic meter.

The outside comparison sample found ascospores at 1,200 per cubic meter and basidiospores at 140 per cubic meter. The outside sample was taken outside room 304. Another sample from outside room 407 found ascospores with 247 per cubic meter and basidiospores at 87 spores per cubic meter. 

Other rooms did test positive for types of mold not found outside, including aspergillus/pennicillium, cladosporium species and smuts/myxomycetes. However, no room tested above the 50-200 spores per cubic meter level for those species. Interior results of ascospores and basidiospores were below levels observed in samples from outside the school. 

 

Heather Mullinix is editor of the Crossville Chronicle. She covers schools and education in Cumberland County. She may be reached at hmullinix@crossville-chronicle.com.

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