By Sue Moore
“We are taking nothing for granted about the air quality in Sunset Lake Elementary,” said Steve Goss, assistant superintendent for Vicksburg Community Schools. “We would never send kids to a building if there was a shred of doubt [about safety] but we just haven’t found anything. We are committed to the health and safety of our students and staff.”
To that end, the school has gone through many steps of cleaning, replacing and fixing any suspected mold that might have caused the teachers to voice their concern as far back as January 2019. The administration called in Nova Environmental from Ann Arbor on January 31 to test for contaminants after receiving these complaints.
Observations from Nova Environmental after its investigation:
• Although the humidity was very low due to the extremely cold weather, the other general parameter measurements, including carbon dioxide, were within expected parameters and are unlikely to represent a health concern at this time.
• A visual inspection within classroom 410 identified the presence of a strong odor from cabinets under the sink. It appears that there are odor generating supplies, such as paints, within the under-sink cabinets. Furthermore, a faint odor was present in the room’s closet.
• Although the carpet was very recently cleaned, there were signs of previous stains present.
• The unit ventilator within Room 410 had supplies that were partially blocking the vent.
• There were no signs of water damage, moisture or mold within the room.
• Clean out all odor generating products and supplies from the cabinets under the sink, in the closet and any other supplies inside Room 410. Store the odor generating supplies in leak-tight containers or outside the room.
• Ensure that the teacher within Room 410 keeps supplies off the univent so that air can move freely. This may increase the operating efficiency of the unit as well as improve overall air quality within the room.
• Ensure that the interior of the univent within Classroom 410 (and all affected areas) are cleaned and vacuumed. Also, ensure that the filters are replaced according to manufacturer’s instructions. Ensure that the univent is balanced, functioning properly and drawing in the recommended amount of fresh air from outside.
• Since carpeting holds dust and odors, ensure the classroom carpet is cleaned as frequently as possible.
• Any areas or spaces with high moisture or water intrusion should be investigated immediately.
According to Goss, all of these recommended actions have taken place. Still, after the changes were made, more complaints kept coming to the administration’s attention. Over spring break, a deep cleaning took place in the entire building, Goss said. The school board acted at its May meeting to replace all the carpet in the school building with new floor tile over the summer. That has been done.
No evidence of mold has been found in the insulation material in the ceiling so this has not been removed. The univents have been cleaned and inspected over the summer by staff from Frederick Construction. They found that some intakes had been blocked and this was corrected to bring in as much fresh air as possible. A deep cleaning of every room was conducted over spring break. Sinks were inspected to make sure there were no leaks or moisture appearing. The roof was replaced in 2015 and no leaks were found although skylights were cleaned of stains from previous leaks.
“Mold needs water to grow. If you see it, wipe it out with Clorox and then get rid of the moisture so it can’t grow,” was part of the recommendation.
There will be nearly 600 people in Sunset Elementary every day this fall when the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, a division of the Center for Disease Control, has been invited to inspect the building. They were contacted in May and asked to inspect at that time, according to Goss. They recommended waiting until the new school year begins in the fall. They will be here on September 23 to interview teachers, children and parents as well as inspect the building once again.