The mold infestation found last week at a South Jersey school may not be as deadly as the fungul problems in the Philadelphia suburb of Phoenixville in 1958, but it was dangerous enough to warrant closing the building for at least a week.
When it comes to mold in a school, there are usually spore questions than answers for concerned parents and teachers. What kind of mold (out of the thousands of species)? Does it have toxic effects? How long will it take to cleanse the affected areas of fungi? Is the damage irreversible?
Using what was found at Holly Glen Elementary School in Monroe Township, New Jersey, as an example, here's some ways to think about mold when it's found at elevated levels indoors.
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- For starters, mold is everywhere: As the Centers for Disease Control points out, "Molds are very common in buildings and homes and will grow anywhere indoors where there is moisture." The proliferation of mold occurs when moisture in the air is elevated. An analysis of the situation at Holly Glen by a remediation firm, TTI Environmental, found that all the locations tested had humidity levels condusive to mold growth.
- Above 50 percent humidity is not cool: Mold "becomes a problem only where there is water damage, elevated and prolonged humidity, or dampness," according to the American Industrial Hygeine Association. The CDC recommends keeping indoor spaces below 50 percent to avoid mold growth. Nine of the 10 locations at Holly Glen tested by TTI had humidity levels of 50 percent or above. The 10th had 49 percent.
- "Toxic mold" is not a thing: It's more an inaccuracy of the wording than the meaning. Mold itself is not toxic, but some molds can produce toxins. The four most common molds found indoors, if found in great enough quantity, can produce respiratory problems, as well as increase asthmatic reaction in those with asthma. In the case of Holly Glen, the two molds found at elevated levels are among those four most common. The notorious "black mold," aka Stachybotrys, was only found in one location, and at a miniscule percent of the overall test sample.