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Health Officials Search Classroom for Mold

Contamination: Dried spores are the suspected culprit behind illnesses affecting students and teachers at the school.

August 05, 1999|ALECIA FOSTER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

SAUGUS — Toxicologists and state health officials ripped up carpets and tore apart walls Wednesday in a Saugus portable classroom looking for potential toxins that may have caused illnesses in several children and teachers.

Officials testing Room 30 at Charles Helmers Elementary School collected numerous samples to determine the levels and types of molds present in the classroom, particularly stachybotrys, a black gelatinous mold that Dr. Gary Ordog, a Santa Clarita toxicologist, contends caused the illnesses.

Jed Waldman, head of the Indoor Air Quality Section of the state Department of Health Services, said one set of tests would compare culture samples taken from the air inside the portable to that outside. Other tests, which involved using tape to collect samples of materials beneath carpet and inside walls, will be studied for dead mold spores.

Health officials say stachybotrys becomes toxic only when it dries up and circulates into the air. "If mold has grown, it will have dried by now but would have left its vegetative body," Waldman said.

Some results of Wednesday's testing may be available by Friday.

The Saugus Union School District had previously tested the room and found no trace of stachybotrys or the chemical arsenic, and extremely low levels of formaldehyde, all of which Ordog has said were present in high levels in students and teachers he tested. Many parents were not satisfied with the district's test results.

Some of those parents were invited to observe the health department's testing and discuss concerns with health officials. Nancy Dahms, whose daughter was among those who developed health problems after being in the classroom, said she appreciated the chance to observe the testing.

"I just want to find out what made her sick," Dahms said.

Ordog was present Wednesday to direct officials to areas in the room that he thought should be tested. He said if the tests show no traces of mold, "more discussion" would be needed to determine where the mold is coming from that is making his patients sick.

Alecia Foster is a reporter for Times Community News.

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