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October 23, 2008

Walker Butte mold attributed to water leaks, sloppy mopping

by Daniel Dullum

QUEEN CREEK

After conferring with indoor environmental experts in a closed meeting on Wednesday, the Florence Unified School District is continuing with its efforts to remove mold that appeared in a couple of classrooms at Walker Butte K-8 earlier this month. "People may find this incredible to believe, but you're not obligated by law to do anything about mold in a school," Derrick A. Denis, vice president of indoor environmental quality for Clark, Seif, Clark, Inc., of Tempe, said. "But the general health guidelines tell you that it should be addressed.

"What we have at Walker Butte is typical of what we have in most buildings in America. We've found mold in hospitals, schools, commercial buildings, homes. But in this case, we have the luxury of working with a district that was proactive and interested in identifying every place where there might be an issue. Now that we've done that, we're going to go get 'em."

Denis said that an old mopping procedure was the main source of the moisture that helped the mold spread into two classrooms at Walker Butte.

"About four years ago, there was a change in mopping procedures"

Denis explained. "Apparently, mopping was done in a very water-intensive manner - a bucket on the floor, dump the bucket, slosh, slosh, slosh. If you get water under the baseboard and it gets into the drywall, the vinyl baseboard keeps the water from evaporating.

"Most of the mold we found is in spots behind the baseboard, and it's probably associated with mopping."

"It can be almost anything, like a toilet that overflows, hand washing stations that may have a leak, probably associated with plumbing," he said. "We did find some wet areas associated with bathrooms that need to be investigated."

Noting that mold cannot grow without water

Denis explained part of the plan is identify the water source, address the mold, and prevent the mold.

"What we're trying to do is develop a plan that covers all of those things," he said. "Prevention will include backsplashes in those areas that seem to be getting water, use different kinds of baseboards

"We did our discovery this week and we know what we've got. Now we're trying to determine scheduling, budget, and what are the best repairs. We just presented the district with the information, now they can decide what actions to take."

Denis said that his answer to every parent who has asked if mold will return to the school is "probably, yes."

"Of course. If there's a leak that goes undiscovered in any building, you'll have mold growth," he said. "The objective is to try not to have leaks and discover those that you can and respond in a timely fashion."

According to Larry Cline

FUSD public information, there has been no determination on specifically what kind of mold was found.

"We've been told there are nearly 100,000 species of mold, and from that number, 10 or 12 are toxic or possibly fatal," Cline said. "However, because of the tests have have been done, we've been assured that toxic mold is not a worry at this time.

"Safety is our district's top priority," he continued. "Many air quality tests have been performed, and the district is comfortable and pleased with results from our consultant."

Denis added, "There are nearly 1,000 different kinds of mold spores that can be found in this part of Arizona. The mold we found is really a hodge-podge of possibly 10 or 12 different molds growing on the same spot of wall. But it really doesn't matter what kind of mold it is. If any mold is present, that's unacceptable and should be addressed immediately and be treated as if could present a health risk.

"The biggest risk from mold is for people with allergies."

The "discovery phase"

Cline said the district's course of action involves three levels. The "discovery phase" is where all rooms at Walker Butte have been inspected for visible mold. Toward that end, Cline reports that the baseboard in all rooms have been removed in search of mold.

"In doing that, we have found some mold, but it's a limited amount," he said. The "remediation phase," which involves locating and removing the mold, began Wednesday, and the "reconstruction phase," if necessary, involves the replacement of drywall and/or insulation.

"In the final analysis, the consultants will inform us of their findings, what our options are, and the district will decide what options it will take," Cline said.

The Cost to The District

The cost to the district for eradicating the mold is approximately $75,000.

On Oct. 10, follow-up tests related to a previous report from Aug. 25 indicated that mold was still present in the drywall and insulation of the affected classroom. All classrooms and ventilation systems at Walker Butte grade 3-8 campus were tested over the weekend of Oct. 11-12.

As a precaution, a sample of classrooms in the Pre-K areas, the portables and the original classroom buildings were also tested; the results indicating air quality comparable to outside air.

In his statement, Dr. Gary Nine, FUSD superintendent, said, "Based on obtained air sample results, and visual assessment, our contracted environmental professionals (Clark, Seif, Clark, Inc.) have advised us to maintain school in session at Walker Butte K-8 and have provided a plan for investigation, remediation as needed, and reconstruction as necessary."

FUSD

According to a statement issued by FUSD on Oct. 15, mold was first detected in a classroom at Walker Butte in August and reported to the district's facilities administrator. The teacher and students were immediately relocated to another classroom.

After the affected classroom and adjacent empty classroom were sealed with all ventilation isolated from the rest of the school, the Pinal County Environmental Health Department was notified. The Extreme Water Damage and Restoration Company and the Arizona School Risk Retention Trust - the district's insurance carrier - assured district officials that isolating the areas to prevent overexposure to students or staff was appropriate

Originally the Trust asked the district utilize one of their vendors to test the isolated area and confirmed the presence of mold, and scheduled remediation for the week of Sept. 22. However, the district was informed by the Trust that it had exceeded its $25,000 liability for Walker Butte because of a similar claim filed in 2004.

"Basically, it's a construction project"

Denis said. "It has to be scheduled in such a way that it works for the school. How long the process takes will depend on how the school is phased. Do you wait until the weekend, or until you're in break? How much ability do you have to move students around? All those things are being assessed and it's all in flux right now.

"Short of taking a building apart, you're never going to find all mold, but drains fail, plumbing leaks, toilets overflow. Those things happen," he concluded. "But because we have identified some things right away, they will be addressed, and the school will be made better. It doesn't mean it's bad right now, just that it will be improved."

Cline said that updates on the mold situation at Walker Butte will be posted on the district's Web sitehttp://www.florenceusd.org/the district's urgent situation hotline at (520) 866-3523 and (480) 888-7531.

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