As reported by the Greenwich Time, March 31, 2008.

Kids' Health Worries Parents

By Hoa Nguyen

Gina DeMartis' son had constant headaches and occasional nose bleeds. Mina Bibeault's daughter complained of frequent headaches and burning eyes, while her son often had a runny nose. Donna Ortoli's son also suffered from similar health ailments.

These three Hamilton Avenue School parents are among those worried that their children's health symptoms are linked to conditions at the modular school building. Officials shut down the school last month after officials found a significant mold infestation in the roof eaves and crawl space.

"My child has a cold now, is it related?" DeMartis asked. "Maybe the mold spores are on the books they got from the classroom? You don't know what to believe anymore."

With Hamilton Avenue School students dispersed to different schools across the town, parents are calling on the Board of Education to allow their own experts into the moldy modular buildings to perform their own tests and investigation.

But while officials said they welcome parents hiring their own specialists, the Board of Education stopped short of giving them access to the buildings. Officials said that re-testing was unnecessary.

"We believe the protocol that has been used for the environmental testing is really high quality and we welcome any specialist you would like to bring to sit down with the specialist (who has) been in the building and has done the test to review the protocol and the methods involved and I think you would be satisfied," Board of Education member Leslie Moriarty told parents at a meeting Thursday.

School officials also said a separate second consultant has been retained to review the findings and Michael Long, director of environmental health services for the town Department Health, has been briefed.

"I think we did our due diligence," Superintendent of Schools Betty Sternberg said in an interview Friday.

But parents said they have lost all trust in the school district.

"If the Board of Ed has nothing to hide, they should allow us in," Bibeault said. "Board of Ed, if you feel 120-percent confident in your results, you should roll out the red carpet."

Some parents also are concerned that furniture, books and other items taken out of the modulars may harbor mold spores that would spread to other schools if moved there. But Charles Schwartz, head of Scarsdale, N.Y.-based Environmental Assessments & Solutions, who performed the tests for the district, said tests show that items from five classrooms registered a normal "background level" of mold.

"There is absolutely no harm," he said. "If this stuff was going to my child's classrooms, I would have no reservation."

Schwartz said mold is naturally occurring and at low levels presents little danger.

"It's part of the normal background environment that is in your house and in my house," he said. "If we were to test my house dust, we would get the same levels, if we were to test your house dust, we would get the same levels."

Another indoor air quality specialist also not connected to the Hamilton Avenue School testing said there are no hard and fast rules.

"It's very hard to comment because there's no one size fits all answer," said Paula Schenck, assistant director of the Farmington-based Center for Indoor Environments and Health at the University of Connecticut. "You have to look at the individual situation."

She said while mold is easily cleaned from some furniture, particularly metal, it is more difficult to rid from paper and other organic materials. Schenck said that while some small amount of mold can be naturally occurring indoors, it should be kept to an absolutely minimum.

"It's complicated because what you don't want is mold growing on materials inside," Schenck said. "Mold is a very normal part of our ecology but you don't want it growing inside. It's not a healthy environment inside."

In addition to mold, parents also fear the presence of formaldehyde in the modulars. Schwartz said the chemical is present in ultra-low concentrations, but parents also dispute that finding and want their own tests. Formaldehyde causes cancer in lab animals and may cause cancer in humans, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

"What irks me about the formaldehyde is it could be a good five years before my kids get diagnosed," Bibeault said.