Lake County (Florida) By Denise-Marie Balona, Orlando Sentinel
Lake County school employees, parents and students have complained hundreds of times about mold and other indoor-air quality problems in local schools in recent years — sometimes repeatedly, records show.
A recent Orlando Sentinel investigation shows that mold, which experts say can cause health problems ranging from itchy eyes and runny noses to respiratory distress and infections, is a chronic concern across Central Florida.
A Sentinel review of Lake school documents, including maintenance work orders and independent environmental reports from August 2007 to August 2010 shows that:
•Nine schools and several district-level offices — the most of any Central Florida county — have had elevated levels of some of the most potentially dangerous types of mold.
•Numerous schools continually ask the district to investigate mold and other indoor-air-quality issues such as odors, high temperatures and high humidity.
•Workers frequently repair a variety of leaks and air-conditioning malfunctions — two of the most common causes of air-quality problems such as mold, which thrives on moisture, including humidity.
•It’s difficult to get a full picture of Lake’s mold problems. Some records are hard to locate, partly because they are not in the district’s relatively new electronic databases. Also, work related to mold and air quality is categorized in different ways so it is time-consuming to track. For example, work might be labeled as an air-quality issue or filed as a plumbing or flooring issue.
•The district generally takes a few days to several weeks to handle mold and air-quality problems. At times, it takes months. Almost three months passed before workers recently replaced some ceiling tiles at Beverly Shores Elementary in Leesburg that had grown mold from a water leak.
Despite the findings, district leaders say Lake responds immediately to complaints and currently has no mold problems.
“We’re not aware of any unaddressed issues and we are diligently working to make sure our schools are safe and free from mold,” district spokesman Chris Patton said.
Officials have downplayed the number of complaints, saying reports of mold and moldy odors can turn out to be dirt and the stink of too many air fresheners — or something else.
At times, it is tough to determine what exactly is causing flu-like symptoms in teachers and students — Florida air is full of allergens. Many complaints, however, turn out to be legitimate. How effectively they are addressed varies.
At least occasionally, workers have to fix the same issues in the same locations, which suggests they may not have been handled adequately the first time.
• John P. Lapotaire, CIEC • Certified Indoor Environmental Consultant • Microshield Environmental Services, LLC • www.Microshield-ES.com