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Nine 'black mold' spores found among four of 113 rooms tested at Sullivan North

Rick Wagner • Feb 15, 2019 at 3:30 PM

KINGSPORT — Because of air quality tests that found nine “black mold” spores of toxic Stachybotrys chartarum among four classrooms, Sullivan North High School/Middle School, co-located in the same building, will be closed until Monday.

Director of Schools Evelyn Rafalowski said the same two companies that did the testing will be involved in the cleanup and subsequent retesting in four rooms. These are the same two companies that recently did mold, moisture and humidity testing at Indian Spings Elementary, where results indicated no airborne black mold was found.

The facility was opened in 1980 but has been sold to the city of Kingsport as the new location for Sevier Middle School. Kingsport City Schools is to take possession of the facility and spend about a year in renovations before opening it as Sevier in the fall of 2022. This is based on the current plan for the county to vacate North in the summer of 2021 in preparation for the planned opening of the county’s new West Ridge High, to include North zone students, in the fall of 2021. 

Rafalowski said she plans to host a parents meeting next week at the school but no date has been set. A similar meeting is pending for Indian Springs parents

WHAT ARE FOUR REMEDIATION STEPS?

1. SERVPRO “isolated the areas Wednesday evening. Air scrubbers with HEPA filters were placed in the areas to begin purifying the air, Rafalowski said.

2. Any items in the band room were sanitized Thursday by SERVPRO Oxide, which is made for usage in schools and hospitals. “After sanitizing, Wingfield Envirnonmental will swab items to ensure proper sanitation is achieved,” Rafalowski said.

3. SERVOPRO will be on site today to perform remediation of the areas. This will involve removing any unsalvageable materials and thoroughly cleaning all surfaces with an Environmental Protection Agendcy-registered disinfectant. “They will also HEPA vacuum all surfaces,” she said in the letter. Some items in a storage room already have been thrown away, she said.

4. Wingfield Environmental will retest the mitigated areas on Monday for air quality.

HOW WERE TESTS DONE?

Blountville-based Wingfield Environmental conducted 113 tests at the school Saturday, Feb. 9. Of those 113. Rafalowski said, one microscopic black mold spore was found in Room 901, the band room; four spores in band practice room 3, one spore in a storage room behind Room 803 and three spores in Room 227. Another vendor, SERVPRO of Kingsport/Bristol, conducted relative humidity and moisture tests Monday, Feb. 11.

The band room in February of 2016 flooded from a sprinkler malfunction, but Rafalowski said carpet was replaced and the area dried up then. 

"Based on the data collected, the air and structure in these areas are considered to be of normal moisture content,” Rafalowski said a SERVPRO representative wrote. “We did not find any excess moisture in the building locations tested. The meter used to take moisture content readings is based on a relative scale from 0-1000. The levels observed are considered to be normal and give no cause for concern." 

WHAT PROMPTED TESTS?

“I received concerns last Thursday and Friday regarding the air quality at Sullivan North High/Middle School. As a result of those concerns, I had air quality testing, relative humidity testing and moisture testing conducted,” Rafalowski said in a Valentine’s Day letter to students, parents and families. In a Thursday interview, she said received concerns via one email and two phone calls.

A video of then-North High career technical education teacher Michael Upchurch talking about mold at North went on Facebook last week. Rafalowski said she hasn’t seen that video but that Upchuch no longer works for the school system. Upchurch Thursday said he left this week because he was getting sick from mold again like he did last year. “The school’s been leaking for 37 years,” he said, adding that mold is visible in areas blocked by suspended ceiling tile.

In a recent interview with the Kingsport Times News, Upchurch said he got sick last year, including trips to the emergency room, and he attributed to exposure to black mold toxins. He said he had the same type rash shown on Facebook posts of a girl who attended Indian Springs and later died, and her mother blames mold exposure.

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