County disputes claim of danger
from mold at Oak Ridge Elementary
June 17, 2009
By J. Brian Ewing
Oak Ridge Elementary School.
GREENSBORO, North Carolina — Guilford County
public health officials stood before cameras and microphones again Tuesday
to urge caution before leaping to conclusions about troubles at Oak Ridge
The news conference came
three days after Linda K. May, a health and safety consultant, told
reporters and some concerned parents that mold at the school was dangerous
enough to close it permanently.
“None of her statements make
any sense to me,” said Dr. Ward Robinson, medical director for the
Guilford County Department of Public Health.
May said she holds bachelor’s
degrees in public health and safety engineering and nursing, and is also a
former local, state and federal health department inspector.
She said she was contacted by
Oak Ridge parents and staff. They provided her with copies of the
district’s reports on the school, which she reviewed before coming to her
conclusion. May said she is not being paid.
May did not return calls
Monday for comment.
Mold has been found several
times in the building — as recently as this week — since it underwent
major renovations and new construction in 2005. It was shortly after that
work was completed that the complaints began.
However, Robinson said mold
is not causing employees and students to report illnesses ranging from
headaches and nosebleeds to fatigue.
“At no time has mold posed a
danger to any person in this building,” he said.
Instead, Robinson believes a
lack of properly regulated fresh air in the building could be causing most
of the reported symptoms.
Robinson is basing his theory
on results from a survey taken by about half of all students and
employees. Many of the employees surveyed said they felt better when they
opened windows and doors. Robinson said many of the reported symptoms are
similar to suffocating, which would explain why people felt better after
fresh air was introduced.
Robinson said he has never
heard of, nor seen reputable medical research behind, much of the
information being spread among parents and teachers. That includes the
idea of mold poisoning.
Amy Pritchett, a parent of
two Oak Ridge students, said she and other parents don’t know who to
“There’s such a lack of
trust” with county officials, Pritchett said. “I’m trying so hard to
believe and buy into what they’re saying.”
Pritchett said she isn’t sure
if she agrees with May or Robinson, but she is glad the issue is finally
Pritchett would also like to hear from authorities outside the county on
the matter. She could soon get her wish.
The school system will hire a
national facilities maintenance firm to evaluate the school heating and
air-conditioning system. The district used local firms previously and
found no serious issues. However, complaints of illness have persisted and
school officials want to take the investigation to “a higher level.”
Schools officials have
requested assistance from the National Institute of Occupational Safety
and Health, a government agency under the umbrella of the Centers for
Disease Control. The school system has also sought help from the
Environmental Protection Agency.
Beginning today, the school
will be closed to everyone except health officials. The school’s principal
and other school administrators will be relocated over the summer.
School officials are also
working on a plan to place Oak Ridge students elsewhere.
County commissioners Chairman
Melvin “Skip” Alston said the commissioners are prepared to pay for
whatever repairs are necessary.
“Any assistance or funding
they need we will be there for them,” he said. He also said the community
must trust the experts involved.
The school system reports
spending more than $600,000 addressing mold and other issues at the school
so far. The school board voted earlier this month to set aside nearly
$500,000 in the 2009-10 budget to address any future issues.