"Higher than expected" mold levels recorded in Howard County schools

Air quality tested in 12 schools

ELLICOTT CITY, Md. - Twelve schools in Howard County tested for mold spores had higher than expected levels.

The testing done in June of this year by Skelly and Loy, Inc., an independent contractor, was part of a memorandum of understanding between the school system and the county to address parents’ concerns of mold in schools.

The outside firm highlighted numbers in red when mold levels were higher than the industry-standard practice. The results were posted on August 8. Red measurements were recorded at every school tested.

“So when we received the reports and saw all the red numbers we had questions too and the fact is the report didn't provide the context you need to understand what those numbers mean,” said John White, director of communications for Howard County Public Schools (HCPSS).

According to Ed Light, the president of Building Dynamics and an industrial hygienist working with HCPSS, the red values are typical.

“Based on our 35 years of experience assessing the indoor environment in hundreds of schools across the country, those are all normal numbers,” Light said.

He added that the tests are not a true measure of mold in buildings but rather a reading of mold spores at that moment in time, which is something that constantly changes and is impacted by a number of different variables.

“When the consultant went in and ran air tests of spores in the air, spores of mold are everywhere. There are no standards defining what's acceptable, not acceptable,” said Light.

There are no state or federal guidelines determining what levels are unhealthy. And because there are no standards to compare the results to, he said the real test is a visual inspection.

“The standards are that wet buildings and visible mold growth is not acceptable,” Light said.

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However, Vicky Cutroneo, a HCPSS parent and founder of the “Mold in Howard County Schools- Information for Parents” Facebook group, is not satisfied by his standards.

She said her daughter suffered health issues while attending Glenwood Middle School and that how kids are feeling should also be taken into account.

“You know addressing the health issues, engaging the health department, bringing in doctors. We shouldn't be getting advice from industrial hygienists who don't have a medical degree determining whether the building is safe for students or not,” Cutroneo said.

She agreed that decisions shouldn't be based on mold spore counts but rather an improvement in health.

“They keep telling us the same thing, everything is normal, everything is great and there's nothing to be worried about yet kids are still sick in the building, staff are still sick and that's the parameter,” Cutroneo said.

The school system said they've taken the appropriate actions to address mold and that more maintenance and cleaning will continue throughout the summer.

Cutroneo added that she's optimistic the problem will be taken care of but that she can't help but be skeptical after communication issues in the past.

“I just want the schools to be healthy and to have information so we can make decisions for our kids,” she said.

The school system is still reviewing the air quality assessment reports and currently has no plans for any major maintenance.

Click here for complete coverage of our reporting on mold in Howard County schools.

For the full results from the air quality testing, click here.

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