Parents of children at St. James Elementary School presented a petition to the Horry County School Board Monday night that called for more detailed mold testing at the school.
“We, as a community, are concerned about indoor exposure to unsafe indoor levels of mold at St. James Elementary and demand that the Horry County Schools Board of Education hire a 3rd party testing lab to perform the Environmental Relative Moldiness Index (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,” said the change.org petition, which had more than 1,250 signatures.
The initial report regarding mold testing by Palmetto EHS, LLC indicated 23 areas had amplified mold spores. Those areas were retested on Feb. 10 after cleaning by the district.
On Thursday, Chief Officer of Support Services Daryl Brown told SJES parents in an email that while the majority of rooms no longer had amplified mold spores, two rooms did.
Additional cleaning and testing was done this afternoon in those two rooms.
“Although dangerous conditions ARE NOT present in these rooms, relocating staff and students will help prevent mold spores from reentering the room via shoes and clothing during and after the cleaning process, and will ensure better results,” Brown’s email said.
Parents insist the air sample testing that was done is not sufficient, and actually swabbing the visible mold areas would provide more accurate results.
Brown read from the Palmetto EHS report, where it was noted that the students "would have more exposure to mold spores in the parking lot than inside these classrooms.”
The report also noted that air samples are much more useful than swab samples as they provide more information. Brown said testing surfaces without visible evidence isn’t typical.
Board chairman Ken Richardson visited SJES last week and saw some of the areas that concerned parents and staff. He noted there was one room they wanted him to see that was locked and unoccupied.
“We had to wait on the cafeteria manager to unlock it so we could go in and look at it together,” Richardson said. “They looked up to show me the panels and it had all been fixed [without their knowledge]. It let me know facilities was in there doing their job.”
Brown told parents last week in an email that the sources of the issues were fixed.
“The primary source that has been identified (and fixed) were roof leaks and wall penetrations of moisture, likely due to driving rains from Hurricane Florence along with a deluge of rain,” Brown said in the email.
Brown said the mold that was remediated was not black mold, and they are in the process of hiring an engineer to look into some of the efflorescence, the deposits that happen on a wall when water reacts with the masonry material. He said the situation does not present a health concern.
“When it comes to safety and health, we take it very seriously,” said District 10 board member Neil James.
The facilities committee said they will discuss contracting with an indoor air quality company to address these issues if they arise.
Superintendent Rick Maxey told the facilities committee that he sent all reports to the chief of staff at the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control on Feb. 11, and copied it to that organization’s director as well.
“We are very concerned about the safety, health, and wellbeing of employees and students, and we would never put them in any position where they would be in danger with their health,” Maxey said.
Parents have also stated concerns with rumors that the district turns off their HVAC systems at the end of the day or over breaks. The district said they never turn off the HVAC units.
“HCS uses set points for the HVAC systems, which is a temperature range that the system operates within. Each school is controlled independently and the set points vary based on season, the type of area in the building, during school and afterschool activities, etc.," said Horry County Schools spokeswoman Lisa Bourcier. "The HVAC system is never programmed to be off.”
SJES parent Kristy Roderick spoke to the board Monday night and read a paragraph written by Donnie Patterson, a Spartanburg microbiologist who has been working with some of the SJES parents via their Facebook page (Saint James Elementary Mold Issues).
Patterson’s official title is environmental pharmaceutical and medical device microbiologist and analytical chemist, and he has served on the board of the Global Indoor Health Network alongside citizens like Erin Brockovich.
A main concern of Patterson’s is that the 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.
“Penicillium aspergillus might not be dangerous, but [a slightly different species] … could smother me to death,” Patterson said.
Maxey touted the extensive credentials of the Palmetto EHS director Colleen Eubanks, saying she is qualified to assess the conditions at SJES. Maxey said she holds a degree in environmental health science, a master’s degree in public health with a concentration in industrial hygiene, and is a certified industrial hygienist.
“These qualifications speak highly of her ability to look at the concerns brought to our attention at SJES," he said. "The response we have taken is a timely one, a careful one, a very thorough one."
SJES parent Meredith Smith analyzed the test findings and said the numbers have increased in some areas even after cleaning.
“The bottom line is we have children and staff who are already sick," she said. "The time for action has long passed."
Results from the latest test should be available in a week to 10 days.
Contact Charles D. Perry at 843-488-7236