When Ashle studying in Rio Vista Elementary School in Santa Clarita, California, complained of frequent stomachaches and headaches, little did her mother Jennifer Overlock, think those were symptoms of black mold sickness. When chemicals associated with portable classrooms were detected in another child’s blood, Ashle underwent some tests. And they showed her symptoms were due to toxic mold growth in her lungs!
There were no signs of Stachybotrys spores in Rio Vista school rooms. But two teachers and five children with common symptoms of black mold illness ranging from respiratory distress, nosebleeds and lethargy have been tested positive for this toxic black mold. According to Dr. Gary Ordog, it is usual to find inorganic chemicals in the blood of and urine of those studying in portable classrooms, which are not well-ventilated. But Stachybotrys “is a highly toxic mold, and it can affect any area of the body”, he says. As Head of Toxicology of the Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital, he sees many patients from Charles Helmers Elementary in addition to those from Rio Vista. He warns that exposure to the black mold Stachybotrys for prolonged periods can damage the immune system as well as the neurological and hormonal systems producing a myriad of symptoms of toxic mold sickness.
Although many of the students have tested positive for Stachybotrys and presented many of the symptoms of black mold exposure, tests conducted in the classrooms have not identified Stachybotrys in any of the samples. Some, including Mark Fulmer, assistant superintendent of the school district, blame the high water table of Helmers for excessive toxic mold growth in the neighborhood. El Nino rains must have added to the high humidity levels in Rio Vista due to its proximity to the Santa Clara River.
School district authorities are worried, but the parents of affected children are frustrated because no one knows exactly what is making the children sick. The mother of a second-grader finds that her daughter is displaying symptoms of mold allergies although she tested negative for allergies. The symptoms disappear when the child comes home, which indicates that the source of the troubles is the school. Parents insist that they have seen black mold growing on carpets and behind wallpaper in both the schools.
Stachybotrys generally grows on wet organic materials like paper, wood or leaves. Research scientist Sandy McNeel from the Department of Health Services, explains that black mold may not cause any harm while it grows, but the black mold symptoms start when it releases toxic spores into the air. Clogging of a playground drain had caused water to stagnate under the classroom in question at Helmers. That might have led to the present situation.
After the diagnosis of Ashle, Dr. Ordog wrote to Fulmer to abandon the portable classroom in the school. “Exposure to this mold could be extremely hazardous to anyone’s health”, he insists. He had come across six other patients from the same school district with symptoms of black mold sickness that tested positive for the black mold Stachybotrys.
For Ashle he prescribed anti-oxidants and vitamins to counteract the effects of Stachybotrys mycotoxins that cause all the symptoms of black mold illness. Sweating out the mycotoxins by spending an hour everyday in the spa is also recommended. The affected classroom at Helmers was abandoned in a hurry without taking the parents and the children into consideration. Children are scared thinking that a fungus in the room might kill everyone. Parents and concerned authorities are still searching for the source of this problem.