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Microbiologist Donnie Patterson from Spartanburg was one of the speakers at a town hall meeting held Saturday in the South Strand. The meeting allowed St. James Elementary School parents to talk with experts like Patterson following the school recently dealing with mold issues.

The air quality testing done at St. James Elementary School is not enough, a microbiologist said.

“They need a lot of surface sampling, contact sampling,” said Donnie Patterson from Spartanburg, one of the speakers at a town hall meeting held Saturday in the South Strand.

Patterson said school districts throughout the country have dealt with mold issues.

“We really need to get … some sampling that dusts the particulate matter in the room to get an idea of what’s really going on,” he said.

Stefeny Wackerly, who organized the meeting, is one of several SJES parents who have discussed their concerns in a Facebook group formed.

Parents have argued HCS needs to do more regarding the matter..

They have maintained the air sample testing done at the school is not adequate, and that swabbing the visible mold areas would provide more accurate results.

A report from Palmetto EHS — an environmental health, safety, and consulting firm hired by the school district to conduct testing — said, however, air samples are more useful than swab samples as they provide more information.

St. James Elementary was re-tested again this month for mold issues after multiple cleanings and indoor air quality testing showed amplified mold spores still present in one of the classrooms.

In an email sent to parents this week, HCS Chief Officer of Support Services Daryl Brown said he was “pleased to report that the results concluded that mold spores were NOT amplified in Room E100.”

“I want to personally thank students, parents, and staff for their continued support and patience as we worked through this process of testing, re-testing and following through with all the recommendations provided by Palmetto EHS, LLC,” Brown’s email said.

The email from Brown said indoor air quality “will remain a priority” throughout the district, and that HCS is currently soliciting a Request for Qualifications for “Environmental Consulting Services.”

An advertisement was posted on March 4 with the scope of work being to “procure a properly-licensed professional to provide environmental consulting, indoor air quality, industrial hygiene, and asbestos testing and inspections on an as-needed basis.”

Bids will close on March 20 and a final proposal will be brought before the school board for approval.

“Once selected, this professional will assist HCS should any concerns with indoor air quality arise in the future,” the email said.

SJES parents like Drew Hanna don’t want the district to have parts of the school cleaned and move on without following up.

The Murrells Inlet resident wants school officials to approve more and different testing to ensure the well-being of students and teachers.

“Is it an ongoing issue or are they putting a band-aid on it and saying, ‘OK its fixed’?” he said.

One method of testing Patterson mentioned is called the Environmental Relative Moldiness Index (ERMI) test which, he said, is DNA-based. It differs from the kind of testing that was done at SJES by Palmetto EHS, he said, which was described as cheaper and with quicker results.

“It’s only giving you a snapshot of a moment of time,” he said of the air sample testing.

Patterson has said commercial mold remediation companies don’t have the capacity to identify beyond the genus, down to the actual species of a particular type of mold. He said reports reviewed by the concerned parents lack specificity.

To demonstrate this, he said on Saturday a dog is a member of Genus Canis but that so are wolves and coyotes. If one was to try to determine which state has the most residents with dogs as pets, he or she wouldn’t tally all members of that genus.

The scientist also highlighted the importance of simulating real world conditions during such testing.

“There just needs to be further testing done,” he said, adding that this would require support from parents.

Dr. Natasha Thomas, a local physician, suggested establishing a fund to go toward having a third party come in to do more detailed testing at the school.

Last month, a petition with more than 1,250 signatures was presented to the Horry County Schools Board of Education with the same idea, calling for more comprehensive testing.

“We, as a community, are concerned about indoor exposure to unsafe indoor levels of mold at St. James Elementary,” the petition said.

It demanded the panel hire a third party testing lab to “perform the [ERMI] test developed by the US EPA or equivalent surface sampling techniques as it has been acknowledged that air sampling alone simply does not provide accurate results in terms of the mold bioburden of a water-damaged building.” 

Thomas said prolonged exposure to water damaged buildings may cause an individual, like someone who is genetically susceptible, to develop Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome, also known as Biotoxin illness, and that the chance of getting CIRS varies. Adults with the illness are affected differently than kids with CIRS. 

She said a person with the illness may become misdiagnosed with a disorder like irritable bowel syndrome. The doctor said she is available for free 15-minute phone consultations.

Kristy Roderick ended up removing her daughter from SJES and currently homeschools the 8-year-old. She supports the ERMI test being done at the school.

Roderick said her child was sick for months leading up to the parents receiving information about the mold, having problems like respiratory issues, headaches and insomnia.

She believes the mold is to blame as her daughter has “had a full recovery” since taking medication and her removal from the school.

If officials took steps to “test and remediate appropriately,” Roderick said, she would consider enrolling her daughter back into the school.

“I do believe it’s going to be expensive to take care of this but I think it’s their responsibility to ultimately make sure our children are safe in that building,” she said.

Members of the Facebook group will be at the upcoming school board meeting.

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