One of the lesser joys of getting ready for a new school year comes when teachers return to the classroom and flip on a switch.
At Austin High School in the Fort Bend ISD, last week a few teachers were greeted with the unwelcome discovery of what one person described as "wall-to-wall fuzzy mold" in some of the Fine Arts rooms. It seems that the school's air conditioning had been turned off for most of the summer (saving money?), and mold spores took the opportunity to move in.
While mold in this area of the state certainly isn't an unexpected occurrence, with all the publicity in the last ten years about the could-be-health-affecting substance, people tend to be less inclined to brush it aside as a normal part of a humid life.
So much so that a concerned parent and friend of Hair Balls called the Texas Department of State Health Services to ask about proper procedures and ended up raising enough questions that an inspector was dispatched from Austin (the capital, not the school) on August 4.
By the time the inspector arrived, though, a carpet had been shampooed the day before, uniforms dismantled and sent off to the dry cleaners and surfaces had been wiped off. Presented with the evidence of just nine moldy chairs and a filter that could use some cleaning, the state inspector judged that there were a) no violations and b) no real mold problem that the school couldn't handle. He noted the evidence of clean-up in his report, but otherwise just checked a steady stream of N/As off his list.
One friend of Hair Balls remains concerned that the custodians who did the cleanup weren't wearing the proper protective gear and that there was no determination that the mold hadn't gotten into the air conditioning system.
There was no air quality testing because their inspectors don't do that, Chris Van Deusen, agency spokesman, said.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the mission of the Houston Press. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Houston’s stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
Regulations state that if a mold-infested area is larger than 25 square feet, then someone with a mold remediation license has to come out and have a look. The state inspector based part of his findings on assurances from school staff that the affected area was not larger than 25 square feet -- and since he got there after the cleanup, that was that.
"He went and looked in every room. It appeared there was some carpet that had been recently shampooed, but from what the staff said there were kind of patches of mold here and there. But the rules don't kick in if the amount of mold is less than 25 contiguous square feet, which is what they said the mold had been," Van Deusen said.
Van Deusen said in cases where the amount of mold is less, his agency can look at it as a "sanitation" issue rather than a mold-remediation concern, and just ask the school to clean it up, meaning that Austin High did what it would have been asked to do anyway.
The school asks anyone who has a concern about the mold and its removal to call the principal's office.