NJ schools taking on mold — it’s not a quick fix
The presence of mold is shutting down some New Jersey schools for weeks. Depending on the size of the problem, that's hopefully enough time to clean it all up — and keep it from coming back.
Remediation is an intricate process, during which workers are trying to protect themselves from harm as they do the same for students and staff.
"You have to close off rooms ... you use air scrubbers, you have to clean out the HVAC system, you have to use dehumidifiers or find out where that moisture is coming from," said Maritza Jauregui, associate professor of sustainability at Stockton University.
And, for example, if the mold recipient is a wall, or more than one, cleanup can involve the removal of drywall, as well as insulation.
"Basically anything that has any type of organic matter to it, the mold will use as food," Jauregui said.
The list of Garden State schools shutting down due to mold problems may continue to grow as staffers keep a close eye on any impacts Mother Nature may have on their buildings' walls and carpets.
"There has been considerable humidity and considerable heat, and quite a bit of rainfall in some areas since the middle of July, continuing to present," said State Climatologist David Robinson at Rutgers University.
The last couple late summers and early falls in New Jersey "have been on the dry side," Robinson said.
He compares the current weather trend to that of August 2011, a particularly wet period that included rains from Hurricane Irene.
"It has definitely been unusually wet, it's been unusually warm and it's been unusually humid, but we've had this on occasion before," Robinson said. "I have to wonder if the schools are being monitored more closely."
No hard numbers exist to determine whether this year's list of closures is worse than any other, but a backlog at testing labs around the state has delayed results being returned for North Brunswick High School. The school cut its day short on Thursday and, according to the superintendent, will remain closed "until the results are favorable, examined and favorable."
Keith Gourlay, executive director of the New Jersey School Buildings & Grounds Association, said mold — in the right environment — can grow rapidly.
Districts know not to clean a room in late June and leave it untouched until September, but even daily checks for mold, he said, can come with surprises.
"You can go home this afternoon and have none, and come back tomorrow and be inundated," Gourlay said.
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