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Doctor: Mold symptoms usually are temporary

November 24, 2018

STAMFORD — Since Alla Bourlatskii’s daughters began attending Westover Magnet Elementary School, she’s seen changes in their health.

Her older daughter began developing food allergies to fruits and vegetables, she said. Her younger daughter was diagnosed with reactive airways disease after her first year at Westover, is using her inhalers more frequently and had to take more medications. Rashes have appeared on the girls and sore throats pop up on Monday and last throughout the week, disappearing on the weekend.

It wasn’t a surprise to Bourlatskii when she then found out mold was present in both daughters’ classrooms.

“In my mind, this is absolutely not a coincidence,” Bourlatskii said. “I think all of these things chronologically tell me this is all related to this toxic environment.”

With the city’s Mold Task Force investigating mold in city school buildings, Mike Handler, director of operations for Stamford and task force member, has been telling parents and staff that the situation is not intrinsically a health crisis. Mold exists in most buildings, he says. It’s a person’s sensitivity levels that determines their reaction.

“It’s an educational opportunity crisis, because we’re running out of room to educate people,” he said, adding it’s almost impossible to completely eliminate mold from any building.

To date, mold has been reported in eight elementary schools — Westover, Hart, K.T. Murphy, Newfield, Northeast, Roxbury, Stillmeadow and Toquam, plus Turn of River Middle School and Westhill High School.

But Bourlatskii is not alone in seeing the health effects of the mold. Over the past month, public meetings on the problem have been populated by parents complaining of their children’s migraines, and teachers with doctors notes about the hazards of working around mold.

Dr. Dominic Roca, a pulmonologist and allergist with Stamford Health, said in general, the effects of mold are not long standing.

“It’s very unusual for patients to get infected by mold unless their immune system is not good,” he said.

Common symptoms of mold infection include fevers and chills, but Roca said a mold infection, which usually only occurs in people with compromised immune systems, should not be confused with a reaction to mold.

“It is analogous in many ways to being allergic to anything,” Roca said. “When you go into a room with a lot of stuff you’re allergic to, you’re going to have runny noses, watery eyes. But once you get out, you should be fine.”

The Mold Task Force website issues the same warning via a city Health Department memo, reminding visitors that mold is everywhere and most is harmless, pending the person’s underlying health conditions.

According to the Health Department, signs and symptoms of mold exposure can range from itchy eyes and headache to joint pain and weight loss. Symptoms can take anywhere from two days to three months to develop, depending on the person. Not everyone will have a reaction.

Roca said long-term mold exposure can lead to allergies and sensitivities that cause reactions. However, mold can be dangerously toxic if eaten.

Roca recommends that people experiencing symptoms get a blood or skin test to detect an allergy. Breathing function tests also help detect underlying lung issues, which also could cause a reaction to mold. However, these tests cannot pinpoint if recent exposure caused an allergy or sensitivity.

“Molds are in the air,” Roca said. “There’s far more exposure to mold in the air than in any building. Having a positive blood test proves you have a sensitivity. It doesn’t prove exposure in the school. ... The thing to keep in mind is 90 percent of mold exposure is really equivalent to being in a room with something you’re allergic to. Once you get out of that room, you should be fine.”

erin.kayata@stamfordadvocate.com; (203) 964-2265; @erin_kayata

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