CHINA — Students are eating lunch in their classrooms at China Primary School as school officials organize testing and cleanup after a hot water valve on a dishwasher in the kitchen failed on New Year’s weekend, prompting concerns about a possible mold contamination.

The leaked hot water sat in the kitchen and cafeteria area for probably around 36 hours, district superintendent Gary Smith said, raising mold concerns. The school hired a company to test the area for contamination, as well as Advanced 1 Cleaning.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, indoor exposure to mold can be linked to upper respiratory problems such as wheezing, asthma symptoms for those with asthma, and respiratory illness in otherwise healthy children. Some studies also have shown mold exposure could be linked to asthma development in children.

Smith said school officials think the valve failed on Sunday, Jan. 1, when no one was in the building, or late the previous day. On Monday, Jan. 2, they discovered the problem and started the cleanup. While students ate in the cafeteria Tuesday, according to Smith, school officials realized the hot water that leaked could pose a greater hazard after testing was completed, and it has been closed since then.

“The issue is worse because it was hot, steamy water,” he said. “If it was cold water, we wouldn’t have as much to do.”

Micro Diagnostic Services tested the back of a piece of sheet pile and found a possibly high reading, Smith said. Otherwise, the cafeteria looked fine, and there was no appearance of mold, he said.

The latest readings from an airborne fungal spore analysis conducted by the testing service gave the cafeteria a reading of 320 spores per cubic meter and the kitchen a reading of 1,890 spores per cubic meter. That is compared to the outdoors, which had a reading of 200 spores per cubic meter, and the adjacent music room, which had a reading of 40 spores per cubic meter.

The spores in the test are aspergillus-penicillum, which is a common mold that is “probably impossible” to avoid breathing, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

The center also says there are no standards for judging what is an acceptable amount of mold to have in a building, and that samples have to be interpreted along with inspections of the area and knowledge of the factors that led to the contamination.

So while the school could not say if 320 spores per cubic meter was a high reading, it decided to clean the cafeteria again and then retest the area before allowing students to eat lunch there, Smith said.

The school is replacing ceiling tiles and sheet pile in the cafeteria in addition to cleaning, Smith said. They hope to open the cafeteria by next week.

The kitchen will take a longer time to fix, but Smith hopes it will get done before February vacation. Right now, China Primary School is transporting food in from China Middle School, which does cost more but is not a “significant cost,” Smith said.

Smith said the testing and cleaning is “not cheap,” though he didn’t know the exact figure. He’s hoping a major portion of it will be covered by the school’s insurance.

Madeline St. Amour — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @madelinestamour

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