By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: February 20, 2019 | 12:30 p.m.
PRINCE GEORGE – “We have taken the problem and addressed it.”
Those were the words of David Hornbeck, owner of Capital Fire and Water remediation services as his crews worked inside Walton Elementary School last Monday following concerns of the possibility of mold and mildew being present in some classrooms at the school.
According to a letter sent home to parents on Feb. 9, following environmental assessments by The EI Group, Inc.: Environmental, Health and Safety Solutions and Froehling and Robertson, Inc, some rooms at the school were recommended for “professional cleaning,” which took place throughout the weekend as trucks from Capital Fire and Water were seen parked outside the facility.
Their work carried forward into the following Monday after school leaders made the decision Sunday afternoon to close the school until Wednesday for “school-wide cleaning,” according to automated messages sent to parents.
Last Monday, crews with Capital Fire and Water walked the corridors of the open-air school in the rainy and blustery weather with cleaning supplies and equipment in tow.
According to a copy of the early February report from The EI Group, during their assessment of Walton, they observed “evidence of historic water staining in numerous locations on the tectum ceiling panels of the school buildings,” with several ceiling areas featuring “light brown, light pink, or dark brown discoloration.”
Across 12 air samples collected, the largest spore concentration was found in Building H, Classroom 3 of Walton Elementary, with over 9,600 spores per cubic meter at the time of the January 29 testing. The EI Group’s report said that classroom “had a significant amplification of Aspergillus/Penicillium species of fungi as compared to the outside control sample,” which wasn’t present in the outdoor control sample.
According to Hayes Microbial Consulting, who performed the analysis of the school’s samples, Aspergillus/Penicillium is, “The most common fungi isolated from the environment,” adding that this is “able to grow well indoors on a wide variety of substrates,” or surfaces. They went on to say this group of fungi contains common allergens.
Along with the air quality sampling, The EI Group also conducted surface sample testing, using tape stripes to collect samples from surfaces where stains were present. Of the seven surface samples collected, one classroom – Building F, Classroom 5 – had “heavy” estimated spore amounts, while a second classroom – Building I, Classroom 7 – had a “moderate” estimated spore level.
Unlike air sampling where a specific quantity or number can be measured from a sample, the direct microscopic examination conducted on Walton’s surface samples is more qualitative, with designations ranging from “none detected” at the lowest estimation to “very heavy” at its highest.
A pink stain found on the ceiling of Building F, Classroom 5 measured “moderate” for Cladosporium, meaning anywhere from 100 to 999 spores were present in the sample. A black stain on an air conditioning/heating vent in Building I, Classroom 7 measured “heavy,” one above “moderate,” meaning anywhere from 1,000 to 9,999 spores could be present on the sample.
In addition, a “rare” estimation was given to a dark brown stain on an HVAC return unit inside Building G, Classroom 5, which was found to contain Myxomycetes. According to Hayes Microbial, a “rare” designation means “less than 10 spores were detected,” adding that Myxomycetes are “found on decaying plant material and as a plant pathogen” and, while “some allergenic properties” have been reported with this type of fungi, they “generally pose no health concerns to humans.”
Regarding Cladosporium, Hayes explains it is the “most common genera worldwide” and, when found indoors, they can be found growing “on textiles, sheetrock, moist window sills, and in HVAC supply ducts.”
“A common allergen, producing more than 10 allergenic antigens and a common cause of hypersensitivity pneumonitis,” which, according to the American Lung Association, is a disease of the lungs where they “become inflamed as an allergic reaction to inhaled dust, fungus, molds or chemicals.”
Capital Fire and Water spent several days at the school last week helping to clean a number of rooms at Walton Elementary School after testing found mold in some locations. (Michael Campbell)
Of note, the room where a measurement of 9,600 spores per cubic meter was found during the January 29 testing, Building H, Classroom 3, no fungi were detected on three stains that were observed and collected with tape lifts as part of surfacing testing.
According to their report, The EI Group reported that ten of the 11 classrooms “did not contain amplified concentrations of airborne fungi” at the time of the January 29 testing, with Building H, Classroom 3 being the outlier in their analysis.
Their report recommended remediation of Building H, Classroom 3, noting specifically for treatment “throughout [the] classroom,” along with “targeted remediation” of Building I, Classroom 7 and Building F, Classroom 5, while also pointing to what they believe caused the air quality issues at the school.
“Based on information provided and our findings, EI believes the primary cause for water damage/mold growth is associated with the historic roof leaks and/or poor housekeeping in each of the classrooms in which an amplification was detected,” their recommendations report explained, adding, “As good practice, it is recommended that all moisture intrusion concerns be identified and corrected prior to or concurrently with any planned remediation activities.”
According to Prince George County Public Schools Asst. Superintendent Dr. Lisa Pennycuff, a total of ten rooms were cleaned at Walton Elementary between Feb. 9-11, something Capital Water and Fire’s Hornbeck walked through.
“We went off the hygienist’s report and we cleaned about 75 percent more than what it said to do just so everything is right,” he said, noting they went saw things like stains that, even though tape lifts showed no mold, needed to be cleaned.
“If you are looking at it and saw discoloration, it is not a very good look or for the potential of what is above it,” he said. “We HEPA-vacced it, cleaned it, treated it and encapsulated it with an antimicrobial paint.”
A question brought up by some in the community centered around the role air ducts could play in this kind of situation. While he was unable to speak to the age of the filters at Walton and when was the last time they were changed, Hornbeck did confirm that all of the school’s filters were being replaced.
“In general, for your house and anywhere, you want to clean your duct system every so often because it does accumulate dust and dander; [it] doesn’t have to be mold that is making you not breathe very well in a respiratory sense,” he said. “When we take those apart, we are HEPA vacuuming, cleaning, and treating things up in there.”
He added there are plans to do a “complete duct cleaning throughout the school during its downtime,” something that was confirmed by School Board Chairman Robert Cox in an interview last week, with the work being planned for Spring Break.
Following Capital Water and Fire’s work through the weekend into Monday, The EI Group was called back to the school on February 11 and 12 to perform additional tests in those rooms ahead of Wednesday’s opening, even though two rooms, a conference room, and a tutoring room, remained closed for continued cleaning, with both rooms expected to reopen earlier this week following their testing.
“Based on the visual inspection, direct reading instrumentation data, and spore trap sampling results collected, there is no evidence of an indoor air quality issue in any of the rooms tested with the exception of the E Building Conference Room and the adjacent PALS Room,” The EI Group said in a letter to the school division dated Feb. 12. “The remediation contractor will be able to continue cleaning of the E Building Conference Room and PALS Room without disruption to the students.”
The EI Group also carried out testing at Beazley Elementary School last Wednesday as a precaution given that both Walton and Beazley are open campus-style buildings. According to Asst. Superintendent Pennycuff, they “received the results [Friday] afternoon and the rooms were all at acceptable levels,” which was communicated to residents in a follow-up letter that day.
As he assisted his crews last Monday, Hornbeck, the father of a young daughter, said he felt taking on the job was the right thing to do for the community and wants parents to feel confident in having their children return to school.
“I have a daughter myself who is in preschool and I only took this job because I felt like, ‘Hey, if I was that parent, what would I want for my own kid.’” Hornbeck said. “We have plenty of work, we didn’t need to come do this but my guys worked on this all weekend.”
He continued, “When I saw the kids running around the playground at recess, I thought that I couldn’t leave them stranded. So, we came in and we did it right,” adding that they enlisted a third-party company to come in and do their own testing to confirm that the cleaning was thorough.
“The data showed the people did it and it is well enough for any child, parent, teacher,” he said. “I can assure them when they come back Wednesday that these classrooms are good to go for them.”
He also offered praise to school officials during his interactions with Prince George County Public Schools.
“Pretty much every school board member and administrator has been all over this so they have been with me every step of the way and they have been jumping on this once it escalated to this level,” Hornbeck remarked. “We have been talking all night and all morning. I am in the office at four in the morning getting it going again and being out here. They have been really good about this.”
The environmental reports provided by the school division are available for review on the school division’s website at http://pgs.k12.va.us and at our website at http://theprincegeorgejournal.com by clicking here.