Concerned parents and staff gathered Thursday night to hear from a panel of experts about the issue of mould in Hume school.
The meeting was arranged by Kootenay Lake school district to mitigate concerns remaining among users of the school despite remediation work being complete. After many people came forward with health worries, mould was found in the school last fall.
The crowd of about 50 included some parents who seemed comforted by the extensive discussion.
“Talking is way better than wondering,” said Rick Short, thanking those who attended with information to share.
Others were not as reassured with questions of safety remaining and health problems still on the radar.
“This is intense to be a part of,” said one parent of a kindergarten student. “Health is number one. It becomes the most important thing – before education.”
The kindergarten class was temporarily moved after a December 19 tests showed a small increase in fungal contaminant in the air. Future tests showed levels back to normal.
“It’s fine to do all this testing,” said the parent. “Something just doesn’t seem right to me.”
Jude Stralak felt the meeting came too late with the stress and anxiety of the situation already taking hold among parents, students and staff. She no longer works at Hume school because of her health concerns.
“The time I’ve spent in this school has been a detriment to my health and I still haven’t got it back,” she said. “As someone whose life was changed … I have a problem.”
Parents and staff were concerned that open communication wasn’t maintained which furthered apprehension and led to mistrust. Director of operations with the school district Larry Brown said in this “crisis situation,” anything he knew was immediately shared with the school who passed on the information. He did say that they could have done better in sharing scientific interpretation along with test results collected.
At the meeting, David Sheares, senior project manager of PHH ARC, the environmental firm contracted to sample the air at Hume school did just that. He described the methods used to gather samples and the order in which samples were taken and where they came from. He described results and how they’re compared.
Scope of the testing increased at the request of the school board, he said.
When asked if air quality would continue to be monitored, Brown confirmed examination was far from over.
“Yes, we will be doing more testing and yes, the test results will be shared,” said Brown. “That will go a long way to alleviating concerns.”
Tests are scheduled to take place during Spring break, April/May, the end of the school year and the first week of school in September 2013.
Brown said that this case has been more difficult than most as he’s dealt with air quality concerns in buildings throughout the district.
Public health official Dr. Karin Goodison from preventative medicine at UBC felt that adequate testing was being done.
Mould concerns in schools aren’t uncommon, she said understanding the situation can be overwhelming but assuring she’s satisfied with the district’s handling of the issue.
“I know it’s tough,” she said. “I would be comfortable sending my son to this school.”
She also confirmed that toxic black mould was never detected in the school. However, all mould can cause health concerns with some people being more susceptible.
“Five per cent of people have some response to mould in their lifetime,” she said.
Because the symptoms of mould exposure such as headaches, itchy eyes, sore throat and breathing problems aren’t specific to exposure, it’s hard to determine cause and effect. Especially at this time of year when viruses are hitting the community, it’s difficult to answer why some students and staff are still feeling unwell, she said.
“Ongoing issues warrant attention. We expect that once the problem is addressed, these issues should clear up,” she said, suggesting anyone with lingering health problems consult their family physician to have individual cases addressed.
With the mould being removed and the area cleaned and sealed off, the concerned crowd wondered if asbestos, lead paint, VOCs or another source of mould in the old school are to blame. A drop ceiling in the girls’ washroom and poor drainage off the library roof were brought up as suspect.
Iris Steffler’s son, a Hume student, suffers from asthma.
“Even if it’s not mould, is there something else? How many alarm bells have to go off? Maybe it’s not mould. Maybe it’s not asbestos. Maybe it’s not lead paint,” she said. “I am not just running from something I can’t confirm.”
In addition to clearing the air surrounding the mould issue, parents and PAC members wanted assurance that insurance funds collected would be all be reinvested in Hume school. Officials guaranteed after a 10 per cent deductable, the rest of the insurance money would be committed Hume.