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Back to School: A Source for Toxic Mold Exposure

Getting Ready for Back to School: The Exposing Mold Edition

School districts and campuses can be a source of illness for students and teachers. Flat roofs, condensation in the HVAC, leaks, or boiler issues are a few common building mishaps that can lead to toxic mold growth inside any building.

A major clue that you are being affected by a sick school/building is when your health takes an unexpected downturn when spending time in that building. For parents, students, and teachers, it is important to be mindful of health changes when the new school year starts.

It’s easy to justify health changes as normal, attributing them to “catching bad bugs,” or even stress. This is how environmental illnesses are commonly overlooked. Signs and symptoms of health changes in moldy buildings include (but are not limited to):

I’d hate to say this but if you suspect exposure to toxic mold, don’t expect help, validation, or understanding from your doctor. The American Medical Association does not recognize mold related syndromes because there is no treatment, specific testing, or agreed upon set of signs and symptoms. Unfortunately, a standard mold allergy test from your doctor will not show a mold toxicity response.

Toxic Mold and Mycotoxins

Toxic mold can emit mycotoxins. Mycotoxins have researched effects ranging from immunosuppression, neurological issues, digestive disorders, to causing cancer. Toxic mold exposure has been shown to cause brain volume increases that can present as a traumatic brain injury, often resulting in intense personality changes in an exposed individual. Fatigue and difficulty functioning are core symptoms of exposure to toxic mold.

Every week a new school or hospital is making headlines with toxic mold reports. Students at Howard University (#Blackburntakeover) held a protest last year over the uninhabitable conditions of their dorms due to extensive water damage and mold growth. Campus officials even threatened protesting students with expulsion and other punishments for their participation. This manipulative tactic strong arms the victims into submission in order to maintain the status quo.

I personally contacted my local superintendent to discuss my mold concerns after I realized my elementary student was sick from the local school and needed a district transfer. Although the transfer was grudgingly granted, the superintendent was not interested in pursuing a conversation about testing to ensure the safety of the other students and put his denial of mold concerns in writing.

Districts and campuses have a history of not cooperating with mold complaints. Part of this is due to liability concerns while another aspect is the failures and fraud in mold testing and mold remediation industries that frequently prevent proper repair recommendations. Mold testing can easily hide toxic mold growth. In one field study, an inspector collected air samples inches aways from a colony of Stachybotrys and the test came out negative for Stachybotrys spores. There is no reliable test to find full mycotoxin concentration inside the air of a building. Schools do not allow the public to bring in third party, unbiased inspectors for peace of mind.

School boards or governing bodies likely don’t understand the complexity of the issue and can be misguided by industry professionals; or will even hire industry professionals that will produce results in favor of the school board. Calling the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) hasn’t helped historically, with their efforts tending to side with the business or school. If you do observe health changes in relation to toxic mold exposure in a building there are a few things you can do to reduce the effects.

How to Reduce Toxic Mold Exposures

Decontamination strategies are rooted in biological warfare training, but the concepts are also used to reduce exposure to lead, asbestos, and dust in construction training courses. These decontamination strategies include having separate home clothes and school clothes as this will prevent mold exposed clothing from further contaminating a person’s living space.

Daily dusting and vacuuming can help by reducing dust load. Showering and changing clothing immediately after exposure to a bad building and getting fresh air daily are also very helpful to reduce the severity of an exposure. If symptoms persist or worsen despite your best decontamination strategies, you may need to make the drastic decision to avoid moldy buildings to preserve your health. The signs and symptoms listed above are clues that your body has reached its exposure limit and that you need to discontinue the exposure. If adverse health symptoms persist, further exposure to the suspected building should be treated with severe caution.

Writer: Kealy Severson, Founder and President, Exposing Mold Inc.

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