Medical Minute: Poisons in Our World: Moldy Schools

The statistics are staggering. Twenty million people in the United States have asthma. Six-point-three million of them are children. Asthma causes 14 million missed days of school each year. Secondhand smoke, pets, dust mites and even cockroaches are known triggers. Another one is mold, a problem affecting many of our nation's schools: old and new. Breathing is becoming our children's hardest subject to master.

It was on the ceilings, the walls, the textbooks, everywhere it shouldn't have been. That contamination was mold. It was the new uninvited guest at this Memphis High School.

Those were the first signs something was wrong for Sydney and her mom, Elise. They don't want to be identified because they're still involved in a lawsuit on the issue. Other students were also complaining of breathing problems. Then, a boy died. Doctors could not link the death directly to the mold, but they could not rule it out.

"A child who was allergic to mold and who was encountering it at school would become gradually more and more ill,” says Dr. Raymond Slavin.

Melody fell ill within a month of starting at east high. Her mom Laynette, also involved in a lawsuit, blames the mold.

"The doctor said and stated she was not to go back into East High School. Every time she went back, she got sicker and sicker and sicker."

Once healthy young girls, Melody and Sydney now take a handful of drugs every day to control their asthma. Doctors say until the cause of the mold is fixed, the problem will never go away.

Mold expert David Odom says strict airflow regulations make schools, both old and new, the perfect target for mold.

"The more air you push into a building, the more you bring into a building, the more difficult it is to continuously condition that air,” says David Odom.

The humidity in air leaves moisture, an automatic trigger for mold. Nearly twenty percent of schools report unsatisfactory air quality, and it's not being

"The benchmark models that school districts are using are other school districts. The benchmark models they ought to be using is, who are the best in the industry out there at designing and constructing facilities that don't have problems, and it's not other school districts,” says Odom.

Parents and students should look for a musty smell, water intrusion or mold growth itself. Mold can cause worsening asthma, flu-like symptoms, fatigue, headaches, inability to concentrate, lung infections, rashes and shortness of breath.

Remembering the child who died is a sobering thought for Laynette.

"He had the same symptoms as my daughter. It could have been her right along behind him."

Both girls have changed schools and are moving on, but with an illness their moms think they never should have had.

For more information, contact:

U.S. Enviromental Protection Agency for

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