Is Mold the New Asbestos?

By Craig Colgan

Mold and other nasty stuff might right now be slithering through the walls, ceiling, carpeting, and air ducts of your schools, old or new. But often it's only after schools discover air-quality threats that the really nasty stuff begins.

The calculus would seem to be simple. If the problem is too many old, inadequate, poorly maintained schools, then the onset of a nationwide, historic, multibillion dollar building boom over the past 15 years would seem to be the solution.

But many districts that have benefited from that boom are now finding they must also live with an entirely new set of problems.

These problems can be mysterious to most school board members and administrators. They can inflame parents, community activists, and newspaper editorial writers. They can close down schools and leave districts with big bills. They can, on the plus side, inspire a whole new attention to serious issues often overlooked. But they can also attract a greedy pack of consultants, multipurpose problem solvers, and "experts" seeking to benefit from school districts' pain. Fortunately, these tribulations can usually be prevented if school districts take some important steps.

At issue is indoor air quality, abbreviated in facilities circles as IAQ and often used as an umbrella term for many environmental-based health threats, man-made or nature-made. Mold spores invisibly drifting down on classrooms from moist ceiling tiles. Pesticides wafting over campuses. Sickening fumes emanating from formaldehyde-coated building materials. Radon issuing its invisible threat. Even plain old dust arising from recent construction or various decaying materials. 

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