Feb. 9, 2006 – The only thing that's going to solve the mold problem in local public schools is some good old-fashioned cleaning, federal representatives from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) said Wednesday. Their comments came during a three-day health and safety conference held this week at Marriott's Frenchman's Reef Hotel on St. Thomas.
According to a press release sent recently from Gov. Charles W. Turnbull's office, attending the conference was mandatory for all heads of local departments and agencies.
"There is no accepted national standard on how to deal with mold," Michael Levy, consultation program manager for OSHA's regional team, said. "So, since mold generally appears in places with heavy moisture, we generally encourage people to look for evidence of water damage and visible mold growth in buildings instead of doing any testing."
Levy also said that a community's adverse reaction to mold growth often prevents officials from having open dialogue with residents on how to control the problem. To illustrate this point, Levy showcased local newspaper articles written about the mold problems at the Lew Muckle Elementary School in St. Croix. "This kind of topic makes people emotionally charged – angry – and keeps them from doing anything positive to deal with the issue," he said.
After the mold workshop, Education Commissioner Noreen Michael said she was surprised at what she learned from Levy's presentation. "It was interesting to hear him talk about the public's emotional response to these issues," she said. "And I don't know if the department has done a good job of talking to the public in the past two years about the mold situation or explaining to them about the schools' moisture problems."
Michael said there has been a recent increase in moisture throughout the territory, particularly on St. Croix. She also said hurricanes and other storms have compounded the problem, leading to a rise in mold production.
"[Education's] goal is look at all our buildings before the mold situation at other schools gets out of hand," she added.
When asked about the status of the mold problems at John H. Woodson Junior High School on St. Croix – which has been closed since last September – Michael said Safety Solution Concepts Inc., hired by the Education Department to handle mold mitigation at Woodson, is in the process of conducting a moisture-mapping survey at the school. However, the survey may take some time to finish, she said, and Woodson may not open again until March.
In the interim, Michael said dehumidifiers would be brought into the school to curb any excess moisture.
Michael further stated that mold cleanup at Lew Muckle school was completed Wednesday. However, she also said that the school continues to experience moisture problems, which may lead to a return of the mold.
Since Lew Muckle and Elena Christian Junior High School – where Woodson students have been attending double sessions since early fall – are moisture-prone historical structures, Michael said Education is also looking into building some new schools on St. Croix.
However, according to Levy, many buildings in St. Thomas would also have to be revamped, since the installation of new air conditioning systems in many departments and agencies are causing additional mold problems. "These buildings are not built to handle air conditioning systems," he said. "Because of that, there is excess moisture seeping into the walls of the structures, which produces mold."
Other workshops at the conference included how to create an effective safety and public health plan for the public, how to deal with exposure to hazardous chemicals, and how to deal with electrical problems.
Gov. Charles W. Turnbull wrapped up the conference Thursday by telling OSHA officials that the government is working on fixing all the violations in various departments and agencies.
However, Turnbull could not say after the conference what those violations were. Instead, he referred questions to his chief of staff, Juel T.R. Molloy.
When asked about violations, Molloy said the government needed to rewire many departments and agencies, along with addressing the schools' mold problems and replacing many government vehicles.
Share your reaction to this news with other Source readers. Please include headline, your name and city and state/country or island where you reside.