By Denise-Marie Balona, Orlando SentinelIn,
A grand jury blasted the Broward County school system for taking too long to get rid of mold in classrooms and failing to repair leaky roofs and faulty air conditioners.
The panel outlined its concerns in a 44-page report, strongly recommending changes the state of Florida needed to make to force school districts to improve indoor-air quality while underscoring that children were especially vulnerable to the potentially harmful effects of mold.
Although Broward schools have since spent millions of dollars trying to fix its problems, the more sweeping statewide grand jury recommendations have been largely ignored.
A handful of South Florida lawmakers introduced bills in 2004 that would have required schools to aggressively monitor and address mold problems and even file progress reports with the state.
But the legislation never went anywhere. A Senate analyst pointed out that repairs would be expensive and Florida would be setting itself up for lawsuits if it identified its air-quality problems.
So, today, there still are no statewide rules in Florida governing how public schools should monitor, detect and handle air-quality problems in one of the hottest, most humid states in the country.
And years after the grand jury report, Florida schools continue to battle chronic mold and water-intrusion problems, according to an Orlando Sentinel investigation.
Wolfgang Halbig, a former risk manager for Lake County schools who is now a school-safety consultant, argues that if the Florida Legislature does not make districts fix mold problems, they will get worse.
The situation, he warned, is already being exacerbated by districts’ attempts to save money by raising the temperature in schools and shutting off the air conditioning in at least some portable classrooms at night, on weekends and during kids’ winter and summer vacations.
In recent years, Central Florida teachers, parents and others have filed thousands of complaints about indoor-air quality in schools — blaming their runny noses, headaches and respiratory distress on mold discovered in classrooms, cafeterias, media centers, locker rooms and even nurses’ quarters.
• John P. Lapotaire, CIEC
• Certified Indoor Environmental Consultant
• Microshield Environmental Services, LLC