Black mold found at Eisenhower High School

YAKIMA, Wash. -- Black mold, known to cause serious health effects such as chronic lung illnesses, has grown behind some of the walls in at least one classroom at Eisenhower High School, school district officials said Monday.

The cause of the mold has been traced to 23 out of 26 windows on the school’s East Courtyard wall that were found to be leaking, said Scott Izutsu, Yakima School District associate superintendent.

A number of staff complaints about water leaking inside classrooms led to an investigation by YSD maintenance crews to determine the source, the district said.

About a dozen rooms on the east side were affected by the leaky windows, Izutsu said.

However, only two rooms were identified for further testing due to the highly visible water stains and leaks on the walls near the windows, he said. Testing included pore and mold count.

In Room 617, investigators found the spore count to be highly elevated at 5,110 per liter of air. In another room where the air quality tested normal, the spore count was at 55, Izutsu said.

Mold spores can cause a variety of health symptoms including nasal stuffiness, coughing, wheezing, throat irritation and chronic lung illnesses, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Dave Cole, Yakima Health District environmental health director, said toxic mold spores can affect people in a number of ways but typically they act as an allergen, causing hay fever-like symptoms. They also can cause people to have trouble breathing or cause fungal infections, Cole said.

But the school district said the classrooms are safe and are back in use after briefly being vacated during an investigation, which began on Nov. 21 and ended the following week around Nov. 30.

“It’s a safe environment and we wouldn’t have (the students) in there otherwise,” Izutsu said.

Investigators removed sections of the wall for testing and found obvious fungal growths in some areas, Izutsu said.

During the investigation, students and staff were not present in the rooms while school officials and an outside environmental agency assisted with testing and cleaning the classrooms, Izutsu said.

Upon receiving approval from PBS Engineering and Environmental, the classrooms were reopened to students, Izutsu said.

Testing of the air quality in Room 617 determined the spore count to be at 5 per liter of air, drastically lower than before, Izutsu said.

All windows are being tested for leaks, the school district said.

The health district did not receive any complaints regarding this incident, Cole said.

“Had we received a complaint, we would have reached out to them,” Cole said.

Now the school district is waiting for an independent consultant to take a look at the leaks to determine “how this could have happened,” Izutsu said.

The new Eisenhower High School was built in 2015 at a budgeted price tag of $108 million.

Brian Holecek, the operations manager for Graham Construction and Management Inc. who worked on the construction of the school, said he received a phone call from the district informing him of the window problem on Friday. He said he has not visited the school to inspect the leaky windows.

“We’re fulfilling any contractual duties,” he said Monday. “We’re still gathering information. We were just informed that something is going on.”

As for the mold, it’s currently behind the sheetrock while students are sitting in the classroom, Izutsu said.

“Even though it’s trapped right now, we’re going to have to clean it up,” Izutsu said.

He maintains students are safe because they are protected by a sheetrock barrier.

And that’s true to a certain extent, Cole said.

It depends on the type of mold, the person’s health, if there is airflow behind the sheetrock that could lead back to the people and whether the cause of the moisture has been remediated, Cole said.

A solution to remove the hazardous sheetrock, which is porous, is underway, Izutsu said. But it’s too early to speculate on a timeline and cost for removal, he said.

We’re just trying to get a fix,” he said, adding that the problem should not have happened in the first place. “Whatever fix we implement, it’s going to be long-lasting.”

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