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Mold concerns raised at school

As Moon Area school officials complete mold- and moisture-related repairs at the district’s senior high school, new concerns are being raised about what some think looks like mold in part of Bethel Park High School.

Condensation from an air conditioning system backed up into the Moon Area library earlier this month, damaging 347 books beyond repair. Another 1,500 books have been sent to a restoration company for dehumidification.

The system that controls humidity in the school has been reset, ceiling tiles have been replaced in the cafeteria after mold was discovered there and nearby water pipes have been covered to prevent further moisture problems.

“Water is the enemy here,” Dave Zazac, a spokesman for the Allegheny County Health Department, said Monday. “If you have high humidity from throughout the school, you can start to have moisture on floors and walls, and mold can grow.”

At Bethel Park, meanwhile, dripping water damaged ceiling tiles in Room 2006 of Building 2, but the district says there is no mold problem.

“We have replaced the ceiling tile, and have relocated the students and the teachers from that room” for now, Assistant Principal Glenn Hughes said.

The relocation was necessary only because the odor of the new ceiling tile “is offensive,” said Art Morally, director of facilities and services. He said an environmental services company has tested and done repairs at the building over the last two weeks.

“There was no mold in any room of that building,” Morally said.

But Marilyn Veverka, vice president of the Bethel Park Federation of Teachers, is skeptical.

“I’m sure they are saying that,” she said yesterday, referring to the report of no mold. “In that case, I would like someone to tell us what the greenish-black blotches growing on ceiling tile might be.”

While Zazac said the health department hasn’t received any complaints about mold or any illnesses that could be related to it in the Bethel Park schools, inspectors from the department plan to return to Moon Area next month to check on repairs there.

Zazac said the department also hasn’t received any other recent complaints about mold in schools, but said humid air from the rainy summer may have aggravated mechanical problems in the Moon Area and Bethel Park buildings’ ventilation systems, causing condensation.

At Moon Area, for example, no mold was found in the library but it was on four ceiling tiles above the cafeteria dining area. Zazac said it grew there after condensation dripped from water pipes that weren’t insulated — a violation of health codes.

The repairs there could cost the district up to $25,000 — the amount of its insurance policy deductible, said Allan Bennett, director of fiscal and school services.

Bethel Park’s teachers’ union in November issued a “Sick Buildings” report, based on a survey of staff members, and it included complaints about each of five rooms near Room 2006, on the building’s lower level. The report referred to mold, strange odors, stained or falling tiles.

“That (report) was an opinion,” Morally said. “We did an air quality test, and there was no mold.”


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