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Indian Springs Elementary air quality tested

Rick Wagner • Updated Feb 1, 2019 at 9:01 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — Indian Springs Elementary classrooms were tested for air quality, relative humidity and moisture levels Thursday, with Sullivan County Director of Schools Evelyn Rafalowski saying the results of those tests are supposed to be back Tuesday.

Juanita Larkins Housewright has posted on Facebook that her daughter, a former Indian Springs student, died in 2017 from what she attributes to exposure to Stachybotrys chartarum or black mold and other toxins it caused at the school and said that other students have had health issues because of exposure.

Under former Director of Schools Jubal Yennie, Indian Springs briefly was closed in 2014 because of suspected toxic black mold. However, all but the first- and second-grade pods were reopened the following week, and the issue was attributed to a leaky roof. During remediation of the mold, the first- and second-grade students attended classes at the nearby Indian Springs Baptist Church facility.

The discussion of the latest testing came to a head in a four-hour Sullivan County Board of Education meeting during a discussion of updating the 2015 facilities plan implementation timeline, which had prompted an hour and 15-minute board discussion and debate Jan. 22 over whether the board back then voted to close Indian Springs and move its students to Holston Elementary after co-located Holston Middle students move to the new Sullivan Central Middle School, now the Sullivan Central High School building.

“Do you want your kids in a 1935 school or a 1980s school?” board member Jane Thomas said at the work session, to which Vice Chairman Randall Jones responded that the results of the tests at the school are not yet known.

“Somebody put something on Facebook. You read it, you believe it,” Jones said. “We’ve had complaints. We’ll know.” Thomas said she saw and heard of the issue on Facebook Wednesday. Rafalowski said she ordered the tests Thursday.

“Just because somebody makes a claim doesn’t make it a fact,” Chairman Michael Hughes said.

Rafalowski told the board Thursday night that Wingfield Environmental Inc. of Blountville was finishing up air quality tests at every classroom in the school, part of which dates back to 1935, and that SERVEPRO of Kingsport/Bristol had already finished relative humidity and moisture tests at the school. She sent out a letter to parents dated Thursday, Jan. 31, about the tests and pledged to make the test results public as soon as they are available.

Housewright said Thursday night that the Environmental Protection Agency and Centers for Disease Control advise against an air quality test as inaccurate. “This test can be very inconclusive because the movement in the environment, such as children, will elevate mold spores, mycotoxins and funguses which are the toxic bi-products of Stachybotrys chartarum, which is the mold previously identified at Indian Springs Elementary. Mycotoxins and funguses produced by Stachybotrys chartarum are toxic and can cause severe and even deadly effects,” she said.

“After the original remediation back in 2014 my daughter’s symptoms got even more severe and doctors put her back on home bound and on the doctor’s orders it specifically said there was still an issue with the school. But Yennie told me the air quality test were good so they did not take further action,” Houseright said. “The remediation was not done by professionals or maintenance that were properly trained and qualified, they caused the contamination and concentration of the spores and toxins to be even greater on surface areas. This is how it invades the body through the skin and ingestion. It was confirmed by specialist, after the previous remediation and good air quality test, that my daughter was in fact having serious mold related reactions at the school still.” 

Housewright said she turned down a $5,000 and then $7,000 settlement while her daughter was alive and $10,000 after her daughter died.

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