Hazardous Mold Found in Seven MS 577 Classrooms

By Meredith Hoffman | March 30, 2012 3:30pm 

WILLIAMSBURG—After hazardous levels of mold were found in seven classrooms today, hundreds of students have been evacuated from their local middle school M.S. 577, parents and official said.

The Department of Education said that seven classrooms today tested positive with Stachybotrus chartarum, and said that cleaning will be done over the weekend to combat the problem. The tests come after parents' and local officials' outcries that students and teachers were falling ill because of the mold.

“Earlier this week in response to concerns from parents and teachers, we conducted additional testing and found mold in seven classrooms on the fifth floor," said Chancellor Dennis Walcott in a statement. "Today we will begin a thorough cleaning and air purification in these rooms, followed by another round of testing on Sunday. Health and safety are our highest priority, and if mold remains in any rooms they will be off-limits to students on Monday.”

Marie Crane, a parent of twin teenage boys at the North Fifth Street school, said another parent contacted her around 2 pm today to tell her the students had all been evacuated and taken to the auditorium at the bottom floor of the building. MS 577 is on the building's fifth floor and the rest of the building is occupied by the elementary PS 17.

The Department of Education could not confirm whether the kids had been evacuated to the auditorium.

"My kids haven’t been in school all week because I'm afraid to send them with the mold," said Crane. "One of them has to see an allergy specialist because he came back with traces of mold. This is a serious matter and the Board of Ed isn't taking it seriously at all."

Lincoln Restler, the 50th District leader, rallied this morning with parents outside the school before the evacuation and said the DOE should relocate the students come Monday into another nearby building.

"These classrooms are not safe for our students and we need an alternative site to be provided by the DOE immediately," he said, "to ensure the health and safety of our students, teachers and administration."

A DOE spokesman said the agency would find a way to accommodate students if mold was still found Sunday, but would not disclose an alternative location.

Dozens of students and several teachers have recently fallen ill from the mold, Restler said.

The distressed parents said the mold on the building's fourth and fifth levels—which has made visible holes in the floors and walls—has caused their kids to have sinus infections and difficulty breathing. Parents lamented that they have only two options: to take their kids out of school, or to let them suffer in class.

In the past few weeks, the DOE has conducted tests on the building and said that some mold was found but that it was removed and that the area did not need to be evacuated.

"This building is free of mold and totally safe to be occupied by students and staff," the DOE's spokesman Thomas Francis said this morning before the new results were released.

The DOE's first tests had found Stachybotrus chartarum in one of the 21 rooms sampled. In room 403, according to the report, "water damage was observed on the ceiling and on the sheet rock wall behind the radiator and elevated moisture was detected." The School Construction Authority then cleaned up the problem last Friday, the report said.

But the United Federation of Teachers conducted another study that showed mold was an issue in multiple rooms on the fifth floor. In room 501, mold was so bad that the report reccommended the space be evacuated.

The walls were damp with up to 99% moisture in some areas, according to the report, and penicilium and aspergillus were found in a sample of the corner wall. The room was cleaned over the weekend, but Restler said today a girl already got a rash after entering the classroom, which he attributed to the problem.

One parent, Danielle Obloj, said her 13-year-old daughter has had chronic sinus infections in the past few months and that her doctor found the girl tested positive for mold.

"She's out of school and now her teachers are dropping her grades," Obloj said.