Lorenzo Superintendent Dick VanHoose was aware he might have a mold problem. But he didn't know how serious it was until we told him what we found.
NewsChannel 11 was able to obtain home video and nine swab samples taken from inside Lorenzo Elementary School. An inside source collected the samples September 26th and 27th and gave them to us. We shipped them to a licensed lab in Arizona named Emlab P&K. Five days later, we got the results.
Out of nine samples collected, we found one area with high levels of toxic mold. There were 440,000 colony-forming units of Chaetomium was growing behind a tattered piece of wall covering. It is located in a stairwell school children use every day to go to the lunch room cafeteria. You can see in the home video, it doesn't look very enticing. In fact, medical experts say this type of mold can actually make children sick.
We showed VanHoose our results. He says he didn't know toxic mold was growing here until our investigation. "As soon as you told me it was there, I called him to let him know we have a concern," said VanHoose.
But he did know there was a potential mold problem last school year in room 15. It's in an area of the school that sits half-way underground and is 86 years old. "We did do a lot of work to that room and felt like it was ready to use at the start of the school year," said VanHoose.
In the home video, room 15 shows wood paneling on the wall. Our source tells us In-School Suspension students were moved out of this room at the beginning of the school year, after a parent complained about how bad it smelled in there. Growing underneath the wood paneling appeared to be mold. The paneling was stripped off the wall just recently, after the school got this report in October, just 13 days after we sent off our swab samples to be tested.
They hired licensed specialists from Grimes and Associates of Wolfforth to collect air samples in and around room 15. The report says the air quality was a concern. Spore counts of Aspergillus and Penecilllium were 22 times higher than what they should be. According to our information from Emlab P&K, those types of molds can be toxic to humans.
"We sealed up the room, instructed by our consultants," said VanHoose.
What was causing the problem? The answer is water.
"Half the room is underground. Since (we had) such a wet year last year. There was so much moisture right in here that it seeped into ground and seeped through the walls underneath the grade," said VanHoose about the exterior part of the building.
VanHoose says they're hiring a company to fix that and it may cost $40,000 to do so. Just last week, he sent a letter out to parents to let them know what was going on. "Did you send out that letter because you knew we were coming out to interview you and this story would air?" NewsChannel 11 asked. "No. Well, partly that because I wanted parents to know what we're doing to know everything we were doing in that room," he said.
"Do you feel the district, as soon as they knew, the parents should have been notified?" we asked parent Maria Picasso. "Yes," she said.
"I'm gonna follow-up. I'm going to go to the school board and bring it up. The fact of the matter is, it went for too long," said another concerned parent, Delia Quintana.
A 2002 report from Assured Air Quality says Lorenzo Elementary had another mold problem. Toxic mold was found in a room next to the one giving the district problems right now. VanHoose says all they did was replace the carpet.
Mr. VanHoose claims no parent complained to him about the mold, but the ones we talked to say that teachers and the school principal, Suzanne McGuire, certainly knew parents were concerned.
By the way, The Texas Health Department inspectors paid a visit to this school just two days after our investigation. We're working on getting that report.
Toxic Mold Discovered Inside Area Elementary School
What if your child's school could be making them sick? You would expect administrators to fix the problem, right? A NewsChannel 11 Investigation reveals high levels of a toxic mold growing inside one elementary school. Investigator Cecelia Jones spent two months working on this story.