Ensuring Environmental Quality Across School Buildings and Facilities
The Howard County Public School system has revised its approach to ensuring environmental quality in its school buildings and facilities, following the recommendations of the Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ) Advisory Committee.
The committee’s recommendations consisted of a two-fold plan of action and communication, which the school system has implemented this school year.
The action plan includes systemwide scheduled and standardized walk-through reviews of each HCPSS facility, to be conducted at least twice each year by a team including staff, parents, students, and community members. School-based IEQ teams work to identify potential issues or concerns, provide an avenue of communication to report potential indoor environmental problems, and increase education and awareness of the importance of maintaining proper indoor environments.
Communication protocols are also in place to inform the Howard County community on all environmental quality concerns, updates, and resolutions. These protocols include this designated IEQ section on the HCPSS website to promptly inform the community of any IEQ concerns and an easily-accessible form provided for use in reporting concerns and questions. All documented concerns will be resolved within a specified time, and documentation about all concerns, investigations, and resolutions will be accessible on the website of each applicable school.
Training and Educating Staff in IEQ
School staff are currently being trained in how to report and track IEQ concerns.
Individual School Reports
Your School’s Reports
IEQ web pages have been added to each school to inform the school system community about that school’s environmental and provide a process for reporting and tracking progress in resolving concerns.
The sites provide school staff members, parents, community members and students with an easily accessible online form to use when reporting concerns and questions. Each concern submitted through the school IEQ sites will be promptly addressed, in line with IEQ Committee recommendations.
The sites also provide documentation on any environmental concern, investigation and resolution on record for the school, as well as access to school walkthrough and classroom area checklist reports, which are regularly compiled for each school in accordance with IEQ committee recommendations. Professional IEQ reports and IEQ concern forms that are in-process and completed also will be viewable.
HCPSS Receives Supplemental Information and Recommendations Related to County’s Indoor Air Quality Assessments of 12 Schools
HCPSS received supplemental information and recommendations from the Howard County Department of Public Works related to the County’s recent air quality assessments at 12 schools. The recommendations, received Wednesday, August 17, follow the air quality reports produced by Skelly and Loy, an engineering and environmental consulting firm hired by the County.
Supplemental documents provided by Skelly and Loy indicate that mold spore levels identified in all 12 schools are typical for U.S. public schools in similar geographic regions, and the types and concentrations of airborne mold spores do not normally pose a health risk. The supplement also confirms that the school system and school maintenance staff are “doing a good job of controlling indoor moisture and mold growth, resulting in the protection of health of students and staff.” More information →
About the IEQ Committee
The committee was chartered by the Board of Education in September 2015 to review current HCPSS services and practices and benchmark them to EPA guidelines, legal requirements, and other school systems’ practices; consider feedback shared by many HCPSS students, employees, parents, and community members; and, based on this analysis, to recommend a system-wide IEQ plan to the Superintendent. The 33 IEQ committee members included teachers, school administrators and other school staff; staff members from HCPSS facilities and other central offices; representatives from a local environmental consulting firm and the Howard County Health Department; and parents, students, and community members.
“I am pleased that the committee has developed a concrete plan of action, based on thorough research and the finest available environmental expertise as well as input from our staff, students, and parents. Thanks to their excellent work, HCPSS is poised to move forward in assuring our stakeholders that every Howard County public school provides a healthy and positive learning environment.”
— Dr. Renee Foose, Superintendent
Frequently Asked Questions about Mold
FAQ information sources include: U.S. Centers for Disease Control; U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine; American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology; and American Society of Testing and Materials.
How does mold affect health?
- Mold spores are naturally present both indoors and outdoors, and are factors that have the potential to trigger allergies.
- Suspected growth on surfaces does not typically expose occupants to mold if it is dry and undisturbed or sealed behind structures.
- Medical research supports an association between exposed mold growth indoors and the triggering of allergy symptoms in sensitive individuals.
- Approximately five percent of the population may experience mold-related symptoms.
- Mold-related symptoms occur very quickly upon exposure and are usually resolved by leaving the environment.
- Mold-related symptoms can include congestion and watery eyes, but may include respiratory difficulty in asthmatics.
- Respiratory infections are typically spread person-to-person and are not related to mold exposure.
- Fungal infections can occur in immune-compromised individuals and can be caused by the level of spores normally present in outdoor air and healthcare facilities.
- Nosebleeds are generally not associated with mold exposure.
- All types of mold growth in buildings present similar health risks.
- Contaminants are considered a health hazard if exposure can cause illness in the healthy population (e.g., asbestos, carbon monoxide). Mold is not included in this category.
- School health rooms track all illnesses and injuries that occur during the school day. Monthly totals of all health room visits are tracked and the yearly totals are reported to the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Chronic illness records are kept for each student as well as a tracking of all health room visits and necessary treatments.
What should I do if my child is sick in a school suspected of having a mold problem?
- Some sensitive individuals may experience mold-related symptoms when mold growth is present. In most cases, these symptoms are alleviated upon leaving the area.
- Consult your pediatrician or allergist if your child may be experiencing mold-related symptoms for a diagnosis and their opinion on causation.
- Report suspected mold-related symptoms to school officials.
- The suspect area will be promptly inspected and any visible mold growth remediated as a precaution.
- As students report symptoms to the school nurse, all symptoms, duration and potential for exposure are documented. The County Health Department will become involved should these symptoms become a clear pattern of concern in the school.
What causes mold growth in schools?
- The most frequent condition producing mold growth involves water leaks where surfaces remain wet.
- Mold may also grow where humidity remains elevated for several weeks, such as in unoccupied school areas over the summer.
- Summer mold growth typically occurs when the school air conditioning system either draws excessive outdoor humidity into the building or has deficiencies that result in inadequate dehumidification.
- Mold growth stops when wet areas are dried and the air conditioning system is adjusted to improve humidity control.
- Wet or humid conditions responsible for mold growth can occur in all buildings, including homes.
- Mold growth is an occasional occurrence in most schools and is more common in older schools.
How are school mold problems identified?
- Mold growth can be recognized either visually (surface discoloration) or by a distinct, musty odor.
- Public health agencies do not recommend air testing for the presence of mold, because it does not provide conclusive information about mold growth and health risk.
- There are no established standards for determining excessive mold levels in buildings. Public health agencies consider any mold growth in buildings unacceptable, and the presence of visible growth in a building requires remediation.
- School mold problems are typically identified by custodial and maintenance personnel.
- Staff, parents and students are encouraged to report any observations of possible mold growth to school officials for evaluation, and remediation if needed.
- Spotting and reporting wet or humid conditions before they persist long enough to initiate growth can avoid mold problems.
- Microscopic examination for fungal growth structures may indicate whether there has been mold growth, but does not show whether it is active or not.
How is mold in schools remediated?
- Humidity-related growth can be wiped off surfaces with a disinfectant.
- Disinfectants should be used safely (follow label directions) and applied when the area is unoccupied to protect sensitive individuals.
- Some water-damaged materials with mold growth may need to be replaced (e.g., drywall, insulation), but mold on hard surfaces can usually be removed with a disinfectant.
- All remediated surfaces must be dried to prevent additional mold growth.
- Mold remediation should follow procedures that protect occupants (i.e., vacate area or set up barriers until cleaning and remediation is complete).
- Environmental experts should inspect work before re-occupancy to ensure all mold has been remediated, surfaces are dry and clean, and that the cause of excess moisture or humidity has been corrected.
- Naturally occurring mold spores are generally present on surfaces, and there are no accepted standards for surface spore concentrations. Unless environmental conditions are conducive to mold growth, small numbers of mold spores do not typically result in mold growth.
What is the Howard County Health Department’s role?
- HCPSS has a partnership with the Howard County Health Department (HCHD) to benefit the health, wellness and safety of the students and staff of the school system. This partnership includes programs for hearing and vision screening, dental screening, medical referral, access to health care, flu clinics and health educational needs.
- HCHD officials collaborate with HCPSS Health Services to offer parent education on health topics for the school community including and not limited to Telehealth, flu and disease transmission, and immunizations.
- Absenteeism is tracked for every school through the ESSENCE (Electronic Surveillance System for the Early Notification of Community based Epidemics) program. This program notifies HCHD when any school has a 10 percent or greater absenteeism rate. In such a case, HCHD notifies HCPSS Health Services, which investigates the concern and determines if additional action is required.
- School health room staff members also consult with Health Services when any class, grade or other group has an absenteeism rate of at 10 percent or more.
- Communicable diseases are also tracked by the health room and reported to HCHD based on the guidelines for reportable conditions from the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Specific conditions are reported for a first occurrence and others will fall under the 10 percent reportable rate as with absenteeism for the school, grade, class or grouping.
- Other concerns are reported to HCHD as necessary. For example, the health room staff will consult HCHD when a student or staff member has a rare diagnosis.