Walker Butte mold types listed as ‘allergens’
Remediation continues on schedule

By DANIEL DULLUM, Staff Writer Florence Reminder, November 19, 2008

Questions concerning the mold remediation process at Walker Butte K-8 school never came up at the Florence Unified School District Board of Education meeting on Nov. 12 in Copper Basin. But, according to the company handling the remediation process, and a school administrator, the process is, thus far, moving along successfully.

John Allee, the principal at Walker Butte, said there has been no increase in absenteeism for students, teachers or other employees since the mold was discovered in October.

“There has been no ill effects from [the mold], and no problems with absenteeism due to that,” Allee said. “Nor is there any inkling that it’s been a problem. The company [Clark Seif Clark, Inc. of Tempe] doing the remediation for us has been very up front with regular updates. I’m very satisfied with what they’re doing.

“There has been no sick employees, no complaints at all whatsoever.”

The types of mold found at Walker Butte, and listed in the company’s report, are classified as allergens – not toxins – by Caltex Mold Services of Syracuse, N.Y.

Derrick A. Denis, vice president of indoor air quality for CSC, said, “The process is going very well. Phase one is complete, in terms of mold abatement. The air sampling inside the enclosure was clean, and the visible mold growth was removed from eight classrooms and one restroom.”

Denis said that CSC has outlined a six-phase plan to complete the remediation process, with phase two scheduled to begin shortly after reconstruction is complete in approximately one week. “There will be a classroom shift until those classrooms have been remediated. The vacated rooms will be part of Phase Two, which will take around three weeks to complete.

“A large phase is planned over the Christmas break,” he continued. “The process should be completed by the end of March. But all of the classroom remediation should be done by the end of Christmas break. The ancillary rooms will be done over three-day holidays and the spring break in March.”

Denis said the mold his crew has located has primarily been found behind baseboards. “And it’s associated with mopping. We still believe that to be the cause. After opening these areas up, it’s still consistent with our original hypothesis.”

As part of the prevention strategy, not only is CSC removing the mold and replacing the building materials, Denis said they’re replacing them is such a way to avoid damage from mopping in the future.

“We’re replacing the drywall so that it’s not in contact with the slab so it won’t be in contact by mopping,” he explained. “We’re replacing walls with plumbing on them, like toilets and sinks, with mold-resistent materials and, in addition, mold-resistent shielding to protect it from water overspray. We’re also installing water-resistant baseboards that will capture water that might occur in an overflow situation. These are all being implemented throughout the school.

“We think this is being done in a very sensible manner. We’re continuing to monitor the air quality and ensure that conditions haven’t changed at the school. Everything is moving along as it should.”

Consultants disagree

Linda May, a for-profit consultant based in Champaign, Ill., is a former federal and state hazardous materials and mold inspector accredited by the federal government, OSHA and the EPA who often testifies in court as an expert on toxic molds. She disagrees with the methods of mold remediation being implemented by Clark Seif Clark, and Extreme Water Damage Restoration LLC of Apache Junction.

“My professional assessment of the [CSC] report is that it is inadequate,” May said. “It does not appear to have been done in an appropriate credentialed way. It’s not the usual way a professional in this area would do a report,” May said. “Either all of the documents have not been produced, or this is all they have.”

Denis, a certified indoor air quality professional, strongly disagreed with May’s allegations, saying, “Most of the information [May] has presented to you is neither accurate or verifiable. Many of her statements are simply false, unfortunately. Everything is being handled appropriately in accordance with guidelines set forth by the various credible organizations associated with mold.

“It is unlikely that she is accredited for mold federally or by the state of Arizona as no mold-specific accreditations exist from these groups.

“I’m in step with the district as far as questioning the qualifications of Linda May. We also question that she is not a stake holder in any of the ongoings at the school. She has no firsthand knowledge of what’s going on at the school, yet she’s critical of what’s being done.

“But more importantly,” he continued, “we are doing what is correct. We are following accepted guidelines. There are no mold laws in the state of Arizona, there are no federal mold laws. But there are guidelines by the Environmental Protection Agency, Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification (IICRC), the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH), and we are exceeding those guidelines in the way that we’re handling this project.

“Visible mold was removed according to industry guidelines, the air inside the structure is balanced with the air outside and we continue to verify that.”

Dr. Larry Cline, FUSD public information officer, said that the district is in “total agreement” with Denis on the matter.

Explaining her interest in a situation occurring 1,650 miles from her base of operation near Chicago, May explained, “I was contacted as an expert in the area of mold and I’m known nationwide to be an authority in this area. I helped write the OSHA regulations concerning toxic substances and exposure to humans. I frequently testify nationwide in court on these very issues, and in 1983, I was instrumental and active in putting together those regulations and implementing them.

“Prior to that, OSHA had a standard that there was no allowable limit, but we found people wouldn’t get that and would claim that no regulation exists. So we wrote the regulation to say ‘zero tolerance’ of any airborne contaminant to ensure that people got the point.”

Upon discovering the mold, the district entered into an emergency contract with Extreme Water Damage Restoration for an amount up to $125,000.

“The district clearly paid a lot of money for an inadequate assessment of a very serious situation,” May said. “Clearly, the documentation is misleading to any parent that doesn’t know or understand the regulations. It’s clear that [the inspectors] don’t know the regulations regarding this issue. They may be consultants in this area, but they’re clearly not up to date on the regulations.”

Denis replied, “There are no ‘regulations’ pertaining to mold federally or in Arizona. This repeated theme demonstrates a strong misunderstanding on the part of Linda May.”

May cited Section 5(a)(1) of the OSH Act, often referred to as the General Duty Clause, which requires employers to “furnish to each employee employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees.”

Section 5(a)(2) of the OSHA standards requires employers “to comply with occupational safety and health standards promulgated under this act.”

Denis replied, “That law says you’re not supposed to expose employees to a known hazard. We have identified that there is a known hazard, and it’s being removed. We’ve verified that it’s not impacting the environment and we’ve not only notified the workers that OSHA requires us to notify – teachers and staff – and we’ve notified the public.”

The district hired Clark Seif Clark, Inc., and Extreme Water Damage Restoration per protocol as explained by Heather Murphy, Pinal County public information officer.

Pinal County has an Air Quality department, but “the county is not in the remediation business,” Murphy explained. “When someone comes to us, we advise them to hire someone to investigate and do the remediation. It’s the same situation with someone discovering asbestos or finding lead in paint. We can only instruct the company or individual to hire a professional to do the remediation work.

“In a case like the school district taking the bull by the horns and addressing the situation, that’s what they should do.”

By the book

In a series of letters sent to the Walker Butte parents, Denis updated them on the remediation process which began soon after mold was discovered in two classrooms in October.

The fourth letter, dated Nov. 5, offered a detailed list of the different mold spores found outside and the affected rooms inside the school, followed by the statement:

“Airborne and settled fungal spores are ubiquitous (everywhere). Mold is not regulated and has no mandated permissible exposure limits. According to CSC and current industry guidelines (including EPA), an acceptable environment for the public is one in which concentrations of mold in indoor air are similar to concentrations of mold in outdoor air when [the kinds of mold and numbers of mold] are compared. In other words, the mold exposure indoors should be less than or equal to the mold exposure outdoors.”

May opined, “That whole paragraph is clearly wrong. There are clear mandated standards which state that there is no allowable limit. There is zero tolerance in any building [for mold]. That is an OSHA reg, that is an EPA reg. It says ‘no airborne contaminants of any kind.’ OSHA has a specific guideline that states mold and fungi – either living or dead.

“That regulation has been in effect for a number of years. The statement that there are no federal or state guidelines which control this situation is clearly not true. We have federal and state guidelines that regulate mold.”

Denis disagreed, saying, “Her information is incorrect. She is quoting laws that no longer exist. Unfortunately, her information is so skewed, that it’s nearly impossible to argue these points. She comes from a position that flies in the face of conventional wisdom.”

May said that within the industry, the outdoor mold spore counts are “immaterial, because if the building has a heating ventilation system with air conditioning, the outdoor count doesn’t count because the HVAC system clearly controls the atmosphere within a building. That’s why you have people with hay fever and spring allergies go into an air conditioned building, because HVAC systems clearly remove those factors.

“A good HVAC system, which is not contaminated, has no air contaminants and meets the regulation,” she continued. “You’ve got schools nationwide that meet the standards regularly and many states have a yearly requirement of indoor air quality reports. So it’s not an impossible regulation to meet.”

Denis said, however, that when you look at publications, like the EPA Mold Remediation in Schools and Commercial Buildings, “they all concur with what I’m saying. They all say that visible mold is unacceptable inside the building. It should be identified and removed, which we are doing, and the air in the building should be balanced with the air outdoors.

He further explained that air conditioning systems do not filter out mold spores. “because the spores are too small.”

In the Clark Seif Clark report to the parents, mold counts found in the health office for cladosporium and bipolaris/drechslera were considered “acceptable.”

Denis added, “The air standard test results are very favorable and I would challenge you to give them to anybody in the industry and ask them how these air samples look. And they appear to be good.

“We’re bringing in outside air as a precaution to flush the building. There is an energy cost to the district, but fortunately, there’s not much need for cooling right now, so it’s working out very well.”

As for May’s criticisms, Denis said. “I spoke to Linda May on behalf of FUSD in an attempt to answer her questions as a courtesy to an interested member of the public. It is my opinion that she is an alarmist, that she is misrepresenting her credentials, that she is making false statements regarding federal and state (AZ) law, and she is pursuing notoriety.”

Be alert to changes

May said parents should be alert to any changes in their children’s health.

“If they’re always tired, or having headaches or getting nosebleeds, you should be concerned,” she said. “It’s not normal for a 6-year-old to have headaches.”

Denis, meanwhile, stands behind his company’s work on the remediation process.

“We’re continuing to keep the parents in the loop,” he said. “We firmly stand behind what we’ve done so far, what we’re doing right now, and is planned to be done in the future. We are not going to change our program because it is in line with industry guidelines.

“It’s the right thing to do for the students, and the right thing to do for the district.”

For information on mold remediation, visit www.epa.gov/mold/mold_remediation.html and www.azdhs.gov/phs/och/invsurv/air_qual/mold_contents.htm.

FUSD response

Dr. Gary Nine, superintendent, offered the following response to May’s comments:

“To the members of the Florence USD community:

“I would like to set the record straight in regard to the Walker Butte mold article published in the edition of the Reminder. In the 20 months I’ve served as your superintendent, I have always done my absolute best to be honest and forthright in all situations. We have handled the mold situation at Walker Butte in exactly that manner. We have brought in certified professionals, experts in their field, to deal with the mold situation at Walker Butte and have attempted to keep the public informed, either by public meetings, letters or by Web site weekly. In fact, our industrial hygienist, Derrick Denis of Clark Seif Clark Inc., was employed by the parents in the Corona Del Sol mold situation.

“The district was contacted by Linda May approximately three weeks ago and she stated that she was an OSHA certified mold expert. We contacted OSHA and they stated that there was no such thing as an OSHA certified mold expert. We passed that information along to the Florence Reminder.

[NOTE: When asked about her accreditation, May said it was done through the OSHA Training Institute Education Center in Illinois with one 40-hour course and one 10-hour course, and that OSHA does not maintain a registry for accreditation. “It’s a felony to say you’re accredited if you’re not,” she explained.]

“Representatives from the Arizona School Facilities Board were on the Walker Butte campus on Thursday, Nov. 13. They were fully briefed, observed the remediation process and were supportive of our efforts. As your superintendent, I would never put political expediency in the way of our children or teachers’ safety.

“Quite honestly, this article e-mailed to me for rebuttal on Tuesday, Nov. 18 at approximately 3:00 p.m. by the Florence Reminder is irresponsible, inaccurate, inflammatory, and beneath the standard expected of a community newspaper. When our hygienist Derrick Denis called the Reminder to confront them about the inaccuracies, the Reminder’s response was, “That is why we use quotations.”

[NOTE: Denis was initially contacted by the Reminder specifically for his responses to May’s allegations about the quality of his work. When the question of the accuracy of May’s professional opinions came up, he was told that May’s opinions were just that, hence the explanation about the use of quotation marks to make that clear to the reader.]

“While I am older than most of you, I still, like most of you, tend to believe what I read in a newspaper. I am saddened that the Reminder feels that they must stoop to sensationalism instead of being satisfied with presenting the honest facts.”

©Casa Grande Valley Newspapers Inc. 2008