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Los Fresnos schools address mold problems
The Brownsville Herald
LOS FRESNOS — Aspergillus, cladosporium, stachybotrys and chaetomium — scary words for parents who fear mold could endanger their children’s health.

These mold varieties have been identified in Los Fresnos schools, but experts said the mold problems might not be as dire as they seem.

Work is underway to address mold-related concerns at several Los Fresnos Consolidated Independent School District campuses.

"I don’t think fears or concerns are unique to Los Fresnos," said Andy Lopez, the district’s maintenance director. "You can see ‘mold mania’ billboards all along the highway."

Lopez, along with Mani Sakaria of Allergy and Indoor Quality Lab Inc., has worked the past month to find and address potential mold problems across the district.

Sakaria explained that mold, while dangerous in large amounts, is a fact of life.

"Inside your car, in the plane, in the office — everywhere you go, the air contains mold spores and bacteria spores," he said. "The problem comes when you neglect it."

Sakaria has been studying mold for most of his working life and has been inspecting buildings and homes for 14 years. He said there is a potential mold problem in many Los Fresnos schools, but nothing that can’t be remedied.

Concerns first arose last year, when parents reported students with what appeared to be allergic reactions, coughing, wheezing and other breathing-related symptoms.

"A lot of other things can cause those problems," Sakaria said. "One would have to be exposed to a lot more of that mold and for a longer period of time to get those symptoms."

Investigating the Las Yescas and Palmer-Laasko elementary schools, Sakaria found mold in only a few rooms.

"I didn’t see as much as I expected, based on their fears," Sakaria said. "They had more problems with dust buildup in the air conditioning system. To me, that is more important than mold (in this situation)."

School board President A. Nick Vallado said the district’s remodeling and construction plans include ways to prevent dust buildup.

"That’s probably been overlooked in many districts," Vallado said. "We take dust for granted, but when we see mold and mildew, we get very excited."

Last fall, many of the district’s maintenance department employees, including Lopez, received training from Health & Safety Management Inc. of Corpus Christi to learn more about mold, mildew and asbestos remediation.

Using that training, Lopez said his team was able to recognize, address and contain a potential mold problem in an office at Las Yescas after being asked to check on peeling paint.

After spraying the mold with a chemical solution, Lopez and his team decided to vacate the building since it is set for demolition and remodeling this summer. Site work on the project began Tuesday.

Lopez said an outside company that specializes in mold remediation would handle most mold issues. So far, four companies have submitted bids to the district to work on the schools.


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