Toxic Mold Discovered Inside Area Elementary School

Source:, November 26, 2007

A concerned parent called NewsChannel 11 thinking mold might be growing inside her daughter’s school. She told us school administrators were not letting parents know what was really going on. We went looking for answers.

Five days a week, 180 school children as young as four-years-old come to Lorenzo Elementary to get an education. The Texas Education Agency rates this school as “Academically Acceptable.” But if this school was graded on appearance, parent Amy Cisneros, would give it a failing grade. “Just look at the pictures. That says it all right there. It’s a nasty room,” said Amy.

NewsChannel 11 was able to get a hold of pictures taken of classroom 15. This is what it looked like before the wood paneling was stripped off the wall. It appears nothing is wrong with it. According to school officials, this room was used for in-school suspension students, or ISS. Nearby, a classroom for special education students; the only thing separating the two rooms is this bathroom.

Delia Quintana has two children attending Lorenzo Elementary noticed last year a strong musty odor coming from this area. But that wasn’t all and this home video that was given to NewsChannel 11 will show you. “You walk down to our cafeteria, the wall paper is torn. You can see black under it,” said Delia.

We wanted to find out exactly what that black stuff was. Could it be mold? Back in September, NewsChannel 11 was able to obtained this home video where our source swabbed questionable spots from inside the school. We can confirm these swabs were provided by a licensed lab in Arizona. Our source says they swabbed spots that appeared to be black. Window seals from the basement rooms were swabbed. So were walls inside room 15 and even this black stuff found lurking behind a pulled piece of wall covering located in a stairwell.

Our samples were shipped back to Emlab P&K, the same place that provided the swabs. Here’s what we found out. Out of the nine swabbed samples we sent, only one came back with high amounts of mold. We took our results to Dr. David Straus, a renowned expert on black mold, located at the Texas Tech Health Sciences Center. “The main concern I would think would be, the fact one of these organisms is a known mycotoxin,” said Dr. Straus.

The mycotoxin found is called Chaetomium. Dr. Straus says it’s a toxic mold. But it wasn’t growing in room 15, 440,000 colony forming units were found growing behind the piece of wall covering in the stairwell. “That 440,000, is that a pretty large number?,” asked NewsChannel 11. “Yes. I would consider it a large number. You don’t want any Chaetomuim growing in a building,” said Dr. Straus.

We want to point out elementary school kids use this stairwell every day to go to lunch in the cafeteria and the mold is in hands-reach of these children. “No one should touch this material because of the mycotoxins that are present in it,” said Dr. Straus.

That’s because it can make kids sick. Pediatrician Dr. Douglas Klepper says kids with weaker immune systems are vulnerable. “High amounts of fungal levels can cause pulmonary disease. It can trigger illnesses such as asthma and allergic reactions,” he said.

Parent Maria Picasso has noticed her nine-year-old boy was suffering from allergies all the time. But didn’t know what was causing it. “How much money have you spent on doctor’s visits?,” we asked her. “A whole lot because he’s not under medicaid,” said Maria.

And even last year, Delia says her daughter was put in the hospital for three days for upper respiratory problems. But still, she says her doctor was unable to pin-point the cause. “I can’t afford any more hospital bills. I don’t think anyone can,” she said.

Superintendent Dick VanHoose says he was unaware children were getting sick. But he did know he had a potential problem particularly in room 15. “We did know we had a mold issue and we worked on that room all summer trying to get that room ready to use,” Mr. VanHoose said.

Our investigation revealed more information school administrators didn’t know about. Remember, one of the nine swabs came back to show a toxic mold was growing. Wednesday at ten, the school district responds to our investigation and what they’re doing to fix the problem.

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