HOLDEN, Mass. — After Holden resident and bus driver Kelly Niermeyer was repeatedly hospitalized from a reaction to what she believed was a toxic mold growth on buses in the Wachusett School District, Holden Selectmen are urging the Wachusett School Committee to pursue a deeper investigation into the potentially hazardous situation.
Niermeyer has driven school buses operated by Robert L McCarthy & Son in the district for eight years. Though she first developed symptoms in 2010, the reactions severely escalated recently while she was operating her bus. She was hospitalized for what she thought was a heart attack.
In her search to discover the cause of the illness, Niermeyer saw an allergist, who told her she was allergic to mold.
"After numerous tests, many of which are still ongoing, she has been brave enough to keep coming forward with this," said Selectman Bob Lavigne. "She brought it up to the school bus company, she brought it up to the district and now she's bringing it up for us to do something."
After going to the bus company, Niermeyer went to the School Committee in May. She has continued to speak out in hopes of preventing the hundreds of children who ride the buses every day from also getting sick.
The bus company hired CLS Mold Testing to conduct a mold investigation test May 18 on all three buses. Though each vehicle passed, the investigation found at least trace amounts of mold growth in areas around the exit hatch and entrance of Bus No. 494, the dash, backdoor and filter of Bus No. 489, and the exit hatch and ceiling on Bus No. 465.
The test concluded that the air samples collected from the buses "were lower in comparison to the outdoor control sample at the time of the inspection," yet the report also said bulk and surface samples "did contain active fungal growth" and that "all molds have the potential to cause health effects."
Amounts of ascospores, aspergillus/penicillium, cladosporium and smuts/myxomycetes/rust were discovered.
The report recommended that the bus company remove and replace the air filters regularly and "properly clean all surfaces which contain fungal growth and debris."
A second testing was conducted on Bus No. 494 on May 24, during which visible signs of "a small amount of mold growth were apparent on the ceiling of the bus above the seat belt."
Although the test found it was an acceptable level of mold, for Selectman Lavigne, the issue hits close to home.
"Ms. Niermeyer actually drove my daughter to school, so that probably means my daughter is on a bus full of mold, which gets me a little bit, that our kids in this community are going onto buses filled with mold every day of their educational lives for 18 years," he said. "My feeling is that no level of mold is acceptable."
Although the bus company made an effort to clean up the mold, Kurt Niermeyer said this was not done by a hazardous materials professionals. Instead, the company hired bus drivers and others as part of "a bus washing party."
"I'm a former environmental field employee," said Kurt Niermeyer. "For them to take bus drivers and send them in to clean the mold is absolutely unacceptable. Then our kids ride around in this. To remediate mold is a big process. If you go in with soap and a sponge like these people were sent in to do, it just makes it become airborne."
The Niermeyers also questioned the validity of the test.
"Unless this test was run under operating conditions, while the bus is moving, it's invalid," said Kurt Niermeyer.
Lavigne referred to videos of the buses posted by The Holden Daily Voice, which were taken by Niermeyer after the attempted cleanup that show mold growth on the buses after the cleanup and test.
The selectman requested that the board urge the school committee "to conduct a full investigation on this, to make sure that going forward there are no mold issues on this bus, and that it's not us getting a report from the school bus company saying 'trust us, we're good.'"
Lavigne added: "The parents in this community pay way too much money for school to have to worry about our kids getting sick by going to and from school."
The board agreed to ask Town Manager Nancy Galkowski to send a letter to the school, asking it to investigate and to report back about the remediation.
"To be completely candid, I don't think it's enough just to say show us the reports, walk us through the reports — I want to see studies, I want to know what the long-term impacts of mold, even at what they called minimal levels, are on kids after one through five or 10 years."
http://cdn.dailyvoice.com/sites/default/files/bus_mold_report__pg1.pdf Attached: Bus mold report (bus_mold_report__pg1.pdf)