“Shut the school down and move my child.” Those are the words of Valarie Gibbs, one of dozens of parents worried that a Texas public school is making their children sick.
I agree with her. The students and staff of Nichols Junior High in Arlington, most of them black and Hispanic, should be immediately removed from their school building. Something there seems to be sickening them, according to a recent lawsuit, which alleges that they were “exposed to dangerous mold and/or unknown toxic substances.” Since this current school year began, 522 medical complaints have been filed by employees and students’ parents. And these aren’t just kids playing pranks or faking sickness like Ferris Bueller.
Numerous teachers and administrators, including a former principal, nearly passed out or lost consciousness, according to the lawsuit and interviews with parents. Some were put on IVs and oxygen. At least a dozen staff members have reported symptoms. Several staff members have resigned or been reassigned — and some allegedly told parents that they refuse to ever step foot in the building again. They believe it’s that toxic.
Since September, students and staff members have complained of dizziness, muscle spasms and weakness, leg cramps, nausea, vomiting, headaches that last for hours or even days, strange tingling feelings, and exhaustion, according to the lawsuit. Among the hundreds of complaints filed this school year, many report that symptoms nearly disappear on the weekends and improve significantly when they leave the school grounds at the end of the day. In the midst of it all, the Arlington Independent School District (AISD) removed the principal and multiple teachers from the school with little explanation.
“We’re losing teachers, the principal. Students are falling ill as well. It’s a lot to deal with,” Delilah Perreira, PTA president for Nichols Junior High School, said in a February interview with NBC station KXAS-TV.
The lawsuit seeks to have the school closed and students and staff relocated until the cause for the illnesses is “correctly identified and fully remedied.”
The district — which filed a motion last week seeking to dismiss the case — released a statement saying it has conducted “extensive testing” at the school and has been transparent about the results, publishing them online.
“The Board and district are confident in the results of both the internal and external testing and analysis … done thus far that indicate nothing in the building would cause a health risk and will continue to work with industry experts to correct any potential issues in the building,” Arlington Independent School District said in its statement. “The district continues to monitor the campus closely and will address concerns promptly and comprehensively and share information with staff and parents as it is received in order to continue to ensure the safety and health of our staff and students.”
In a Feb. 2 letter, the district acknowledged a foul odor at the school — known as “dirty sock syndrome” — and wrote that while the situation is “unpleasant and may lead to a general feeling of discomfort,” it was “not reported to be a health risk.” AISD also said that attendance patterns at Nichols this year appear normal.
Dr. Alisa Rich, a widely respected toxicologist and environmental scientist, was contracted by attorneys representing families and staff members of the school to evaluate this crisis. Her determination, published March 21 after she reviewed multiple reports from the school district and conducted her own analysis, is that students and staff are being exposed to an airborne Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) and that the school system, out of an abundance of caution, should order the “immediate removal and relocation of personnel and students from the facility to avoid prolonged exposure and possible irreversible harm.”
Dr. Rich continued, “It is strongly encouraged that personnel and scholars are not allowed to return to the Nichols facility until appropriate tests are conducted to rule out exposure to VOCs and/or natural gas.” Rich is deeply worried about the potential for brain damage or long-term nervous system damage.
Parents carry similar concerns.
“For the kids’ sake, close the school so that it doesn’t prolong whatever’s going on with these kids,” said Joshua Harris, a father of a 7th grader at Nichols Junior High.
When asked whether the inconvenience of moving all of the students out of the school would be worth it, Joshua, standing alongside his wife, Kaneia, without hesitation, declared, “I’d rather my son live a long, healthy life than be sick going to school here every day.”
For its part, the school district has conducted numerous environmental tests, but none seem to adequately explain the severity of symptoms reported by students and staff. The district says it continues to work with county public health officials and sent six letters to parents about indoor air quality concerns at the school.
One local community organizer compared the situation at Nichols Junior High to Dallas public housing built in the 1950s that contained high levels of lead.
“In 1972, the city of Dallas acknowledged the problem, however, it took them ANOTHER 21 years to rectify it… and that was only after the West Dallas Boys and Girls closed their doors when they discovered lead levels in their soil to be 36 times the level considered dangerous for children,” Michelle Williams, President of the local chapter of the Urban League, said.
This is the definition of environmental racism. Marginalized people are exposed to dangerous toxins and when it’s abundantly clear that something terrible is happening, solutions are slower than they ever would be in predominantly white communities of privilege.
“I knew they were testing the air,” said parent Natasha Jackson. “They said ‘oh, everything’s fine.’ Well if they’re still getting sick, everything’s not fine.”
And that’s the point. In spite of test after test, students and staff members are still getting sick and it appears that the school system, according to the lawsuit, has overlooked the well-being of those who deserve to be protected.
This is why we say “Black Lives Matter.” It appears that this Title 1 school, which primarily serves students and families of color, is not being properly protected.
Civil rights attorneys Jasmine Crockett and Lee Merritt have been brought on to represent at least 15 plaintiffs in the suit against the school district. “New families and staff members are joining are suit every day. Educators and parents have come together to file a lawsuit against the district to get the building evacuated until the hazard is identified and resolved. Much like the contaminated water in Michigan or the habitual practice of placing landfills next to black communities, this would not be happening if these students were not minorities,” Merritt said.
Sadly, I agree with him. Like the moment where Erin Brockovich dared opposing attorneys to drink the contaminated water that was making people sick, I seriously doubt that the school officials accused of being slow to stand up for the people of Nichols Junior High would let their loved ones attend or work there.
These kids and their families are stuck. Many families who live in that school district really don’t have any other options but to continue sending their kids to a school they believe is making them sick. No person should ever be forced to make such a choice, but these are the painful decisions too many communities of color face all over this nation. What do you do when you own a home in a city that can’t guarantee your drinking water is clean or that your children aren’t being sickened by something in the ground or in the air?
Many people are unfamiliar with the term ‘indoor air pollution’, and most don’t realise it can be considerably worse than outdoor pollution.
Yet three quarters of the 4,000 deaths caused by diseases and infections linked to air pollution among European children under five, can be attributed to indoor air, as reported in Unicef’s Clear The Air For Children report.
In the US, Environmental Protection Agency studies have found pollutant levels indoors are typically two to five times higher than outdoors, but during, and for several hours immediately after, certain activities, such as routine building work levels may be 1,000 times higher.
New builds, whilst more energy efficient and better sound-proofed, are also more air tight and less well ventilated, trapping air pollution inside the building
New builds, whilst more energy efficient and better sound-proofed, are also more air tight and less well ventilated. They trap air pollution inside the building, including particles from synthetic building materials, toxic paints, and carpets and furnishings that off-gas chemicals. In older buildings, indoor pollution could be caused by lead, asbestos, mould spores, carpet fibres and dust from crumbling walls.
In addition, buildings trap in allergens like mould and pollen, which can exacerbate existing respiratory illnesses. All buildings are constantly under invisible attack from traffic and industrial fumes, and radon gas, known to cause lung cancer from rocks and soil below.
Every year, children will spend 1,300 hours at school. To safeguard children and staff against the potentially harmful effects of indoor air pollution, the building trade should do two things:
1. Put ventilation on a pedestal with energy efficiency
Currently, UK building regulations focus more heavily on energy efficiency than on ventilation, which is understandable when you consider the British weather and climate.
While this has obvious environmental benefits, airtight design that traps in pollution is not always good for the health of those using the building when you consider that outdoor air is almost always cleaner than indoors.
Positive ventilation, and active sumps with fans, can also be used to reduce radon levels beneath solid and suspended floors, before it penetrates the building.
Standard HVAC systems can simply bring in polluted air, such as micro-particles from traffic and industry pollution, while top quality air filtration systems can filter out most harmful indoor air pollution in schools, including ultra-fine particles. Air filtration systems vary hugely in quality and cost but should be low maintenance, with a filter life of no less then 12 months, incorporate leakage-free HEPA filtration for the highest filtration efficiency, and should not produce any harmful by-products such as ozone, which can be a lung irritant.
2. Use safer materials and considered interior design
Every material, fabric or interior feature has the potential to contribute to indoor air pollution, from adhesives and paints to carpets and wood, and is therefore potentially harmful to children. They are more susceptible to pollution due to their breathing rates being higher in relation to their body weight than adults.
Opting for paints that do not release harmful Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), and sourcing materials and furniture that do not release formaldehyde, are easy changes that would make a positive difference.
With a cross-committee Government inquiry currently looking into air pollution, and publishing its findings on 24th April, indoor air pollution, and all its irritating and harmful side effects, will have the spotlight. The trade should expect schools to demand more in terms of thoughtful design as a consequence.
There’s no question buildings affect our health, and WELL ratings help to ensure they improve occupants’ well-being and boost productivity.
Around Australia, the solution many office workers use to combat ‘tiredness’ in the middle of the afternoon revolves around a latte from their favourite coffee shop.
Less common are thoughts about better access to daylight, better ventilation and better thermal comfort. More broadly, whilst considerable effort has gone into improving the performance of buildings from a sustainability perspective, less attention has been given to building design from a standpoint of human health.
Yet the importance of buildings in health outcomes cannot be underestimated. In cardiovascular health, for example, the elimination of environmental pollutants such as tobacco and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) helps to avoid damage to the heart and vessels. In the immune system, use of non-toxic chemicals limits the exposure to chemicals which weaken immune function whilst water and air-filtration systems limit exposure to bacterial and viral pathogens and allergies.
That matters. Using data from 2014, information from the World Health Organization Global Expenditure database suggests that around 9.9 and 9.4 per cent of gross domestic product is being spent on healthcare annually throughout the world and in Australia respectively. With a 2001 study by the US Environmental Protection Agency suggesting that people on average spend 90 per cent of their time indoors, the potential to improve health outcomes through better indoor environments is clear.
Accordingly, a standard has been developed which enables buildings to be certified for the way in which their design facilitates positive health outcomes. Administered by the International Well Building Institute (IWBI), the WELL Building Standard aims not to compete with green building ratings systems but rather to complement them.
Essentially, the standard looks at a project’s performance in terms of seven ‘concepts’ or elements of buildings which are critical to health and well-being. These are air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind. Three types of projects can be certified: new and existing buildings, new and existing interiors and ‘core and shell’ projects (building structure, heating and cooling, window locations and glazing etc.).
Scoring is influenced by two types of criteria: preconditions and optimisations. For the new and existing building certification, there are 41 applicable preconditions and 59 available optimisations. In terms of air, for example, 12 preconditions include things like smoking bans, VOC reduction, air filtration and microbe and mold control, whilst 17 optimisation credits available include air infiltration management, humidity control, pest control and advanced air purification.
To achieve the basic Silver Certification, all preconditions must be met across each concept area. To achieve the higher Gold and Platinum certifications, 40 per cent and 80 per cent of applicable optimisations must be achieved respectively in addition to all of the preconditions.
The standard is catching on. Globally, 351 projects across 28 countries have been certified, including 26 projects in Australia. There are also 31 accredited professionals (APs) in Australia who have been assessed by the Institute to possess expertise in the standard and more than 1,000 APs worldwide.
In a presentation at the recent Green Cities event hosted by the Green Building Council of Australia, International Well Building Institute chairman and CEO Rick Fedrizzi stressed that the standard was in not intended as an alternative to Green Star or other sustainable building rating systems but rather to work alongside these systems in a complementary manner. Indeed, IBWI and GBCA have been in partnership since March last year, with both are working to promote buildings which are both healthy and sustainable. Arrangements are also in place to ensure that where Green Star and Well rating credits cross over, projects which have already been assessed for the relevant credits through Green Star will not need to be assessed for these credits again when applying for WELL certification.
Fedrizzi says the relationship between health and buildings is grounded in sound evidence. Take cognitive health, for example. In one recent study, Harvard University Assistant Professor of Exposure Assessment Science Joseph Allen found that cognitive scores of 24 participants who spent six full work days in an environmentally controlled office space improved by 61 per cent during days in which they were exposed only to low concentrations of volatile organic compounds and by 101 per cent when high outdoor air ventilation rates and artificially elevated carbon dioxide levels of independent ventilation were added.
Fedrizzi – also a co-founder of the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) and who prior to his current role served as USGBC’s chief executive officer for 15 years – says that whilst gains made in sustainability have been encouraging, the impact of buildings upon health had thus far not received the level of recognition which is warranted. He says considerations relating to sustainability and those relating to building health are interrelated.
“Everybody in this room understands the impact of buildings (in terms of sustainability),” Fedrezzi told the Green Cities conference. “We understand the building, the components and the integration.
“But what about the next level? What about the human being inside those buildings? Now for the first time, we are able to look at buildings from a different standpoint and understand the human in those buildings and how all of the systems in the human body actually engage with the interface of the building and given time, (we are able to) ultimately advance the building for health and wellness.
“In the beginning (of the green building movement), people were saying sustainability is great and green building is great but what about health? Why are these two separate?”
“The truth is they are not. It is not sustainability plus health and wellness. Sustainability equals health. If you don’t have a building that respects you on every level, we are never going to get to a place in health that we want for ourselves, our co-workers, our employees and our families as well.”
BenchmarkMyBuilding™ leverages the largest data set of its kind, representing 68 billion square feet of buildings, to quickly benchmark consumption and costs
OAKLAND, CA–(Marketwired – Mar 15, 2017) – Lucid, provider of the most comprehensive business intelligence platform for building operations, today unveiled BenchmarkMyBuilding, the industry’s first free self-service benchmark for building energy consumption and costs. Others have created proprietary benchmarks on select data sets, but BenchmarkMyBuilding is the first to leverage the expansive data available through multiple government data sources to enable rapid performance comparisons against similar buildings. Created in partnership with Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) National Laboratory, through the DOE Small Business Voucher Program, BenchmarkMyBuilding for the first time enables anyone to leverage the billions of data points on commercial building energy use from the DOE and Energy Star. The benchmark calculates the associated annual energy costs, and delivers the findings in an intuitive report that can be shared with collaborators, operators, investors, and occupants.
Easy Inputs, Invaluable Insights
Unlike over-simplified energy calculators that pull some estimated numbers from a sampling of a vendor’s customer base, BenchmarkMyBuilding integrates data from both the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Energy Star Target Finder and the. U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Building Performance Database. The DOE and Energy Star have assembled the largest database of information related to building energy consumption in the world, representing nearly 4.8 million buildings, comprising 68 billion square feet of commercial building space. However these databases are geared toward skilled engineers rather than more general business audiences, and do not prioritize cost information.
Lucid weaves these data sets together to provide both cost and consumption benchmarks, with insights into how much improvement is possible. Traditionally, the process to calculate such insights could take weeks for teams to undertake, and would require specialized industry expertise. BenchmarkMyBuilding removes those barriers, making valuable comparisons and instant visibility over the energy efficiency potential of buildings available to anyone.
From only three simple inputs (building type, building size, and building location) users can immediately view key performance indicators such as energy cost, energy consumption, energy use intensity, and comparative performance in intuitive and readily shareable visuals. With additional inputs, users can get a customized energy use report that compares specific buildings with peer buildings and calculates the potential value of improved performance.
“Prior to having BenchmarkMyBuilding, it was challenging to come up with a consistent benchmark for all of our buildings. We had both EnergyStar and DOE sources and weren’t sure about how to intertwine them. This will be great for people trying to get started during the initial stages of benchmarking.”
— Dana Jennings, Global Sustainability Project Manager, LinkedIn
“As the Principal Investigator of the DOE Building Performance Database I’m committed to broadly supporting data-driven decision-making using empirical data. I’m especially enthused by our collaboration with BPD users such as Lucid who deliver insights from the largest database of building data through user-friendly, engaging visuals.”
— Paul Mathew, Creator of the DOE Building Performance Database, Department Head of Whole Building Systems, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL)
“This benchmarking solution allows energy managers, building owners and operators to access clear comparisons of their buildings’ energy cost and performance compared to similar buildings using the vast DOE datasets. Armed with this information, energy and sustainability managers can quickly communicate with other stakeholders about energy expenditures, so they can take steps to make buildings more sustainable, more cost-effective for owners and more attractive to investors and tenants.”
— Jessica Granderson, Deputy for Research Programs, Building Technology and Urban Systems Division, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL)
We all love our comfortable safe homes. That place we gather with our families and loved ones after long hectic days. The place that keeps us sheltered from the elements. In the hustle and bustle of our daily lives sometimes we are so busy we can overlook little hidden dangers. Small spots of water, little leaks and even our sponges and countertops. These are the obvious places where mold can grow, however there are other more hidden places where mold growth cannot as easily be seen and most homeowners won’t notice until there is an odor or moldy patches start to appear.
Molds can spread fast and usually grow in the span of 24-72 hours. They feed on dry wall, wood and any other organic material inside the house. For this reason it can be a huge threat to us and our families if we do not take it seriously. No one wants to live in a house full of molds and the hazards they can create.
Mold can put our health at risk. After lots of researches, it has been found that too much exposure to molds can create health problems, especially in the upper respiratory system. Infants, children and the elderly are at a greater risk due to their immune systems and can be easily infected when exposed to molds. Those people currently suffering from a respiratory ailment can suffer even more severe health problems. The results from mold exposure vary widely but can include:
• Flu like symptoms
• Pulmonary injury
• Hematologic and immunologic disorders
• Hepatic, endocrine and/or renal toxicities
• Pregnancy, gastrointestinal and/or cardiac conditions
There is also a certain type of mold namely, “Stachybotrys” which can start with the simple itchiness of your eyes, sneezing, cough which if not checked and diagnosed, could possibly damage your lungs permanently, which could eventually end in death. This is only likely to occur in the most extreme cases but why would you want to put your family at any unnecessary risk.
It can destroy everything inside the house. Little by little, if not dealt with mold can destroy every part of the home. It does not discriminate between your important documents, frames, ceilings, wood beams, floors or furniture. These microscopic organisms will destroy it all. We may not be able to notice it at first glance, but later on when the mold patches are visible, the harm it has caused to your home is already evident. Mold generally starts from a small spore that then grows into clusters. These clusters can spread easily if not discovered early.
We cannot say whether our home is mold-free or not if our home does not undergo a home inspection. Home maintenance is an essential procedure in making sure that there is no mold growth in our home. There are professional mold inspectors available who will gladly come out and test your home. Having this done can help guarantee your home is safe, and that your family is living in a heathy environment. It is always better to let the professionals handle our concerns before it becomes a serious problem putting ourselves at risk.
If you want to know more about mold prevention, check out http://funguyinspections.com/.
A lasagna that you cooked six days ago sits in your fridge . Can you eat it?
According to The Ultimate Mold Guide, a casserole like lasagna keeps fresh inside the refrigerator for between three to five days after cooking. The reason it doesn’t last longer? Mold!
The white and green fuzzy stuff that grosses us out when we spot it in the fridge actually plays an important role in the environment. Without mold, no plant or animal would break down.
Sometimes mold is safe to eat, like the kind on some of our favorite cheeses (We’re looking at you brie, camembert, and Roquefort). Other times mold is a health hazard, including when you spot it on soft fruits and vegetables, leftovers, deli meat, hot dogs and condiments. Harmful mycotoxins can form in your body after ingesting or inhaling mold, so never eat or sniff food you think went bad.
Usually the mold you see is one of the four common molds, Alternaria, Aspergillus, Cladosporium, and Penicillium, according to The Mold Guide. But what the eye spots can also just be the very beginning – it’s possible the mold has penetrated deep inside the food. (One exception is hard fruit such as an orange. With such a thick outer rind, it could be that the flesh is perfectly fine to eat.)
Below is a helpful chart to determine how long it takes for your favorite pantry staples to good bad. All the food represented in the guide is fresh, raw or whole.