Two of the trailers on the Westfield campus.

Photo courtesy of Helen Mondloch

Two of the trailers on the Westfield campus.

      Westfield High School has stood tall and proud for 20 years now. Thousands of kids and hundreds of staff members pass through the doors each year, and the faculty makes it their job to keep the school a safe environment for both groups. However, a creeping problem arises with each day the school building gets older: mold.

      Mold comes as a part of nature. The niche of mold in the environment is to decompose dead organic material and return it to the environment. Despite its useful role in the ecosystem, mold is usually unwanted by humans, especially considering the dangers of mold growing in enclosed spaces. William Alexander-Goldsmith, English Teacher, has experienced this problem firsthand in his trailer. 

      “When my trailer had carpet, the entire trailer would reek of mold and mildew,” Goldsmith remarked. “There was so much moisture in the air that papers on my desk would curl and literally be damp when I would come in on Monday morning.”

      Wood is excellent at retaining water for long periods of time. The slow release of this water into the inside of the trailer was exactly Goldsmith’s problem. It was making his worksheets damp and putting his trailer at risk for mold growth. In the dark and damp conditions of the Westfield trailers, mold can fester; it will grow and release more spores, increasing the level of particulate matter (in this case, mold spores) into the air that can make the room feel stuffy. The spores can cause lung irritation, itchy or red eyes, skin irritation, and respiratory issues. 

      “Over the next three years, I continued to have multiple sinus infections and upper-respiratory infections,”Goldsmith recalled. “I contracted pneumonia my first week in the trailer due to my pre-existing asthma and severe mold allergies.”

      Efforts to control the moisture in his trailer have been of little help.  “The school did purchase a dehumidifier for the trailer,” Goldsmith said. “But the bucket [to the dehumidifier] would fill up very quickly and made no difference in the level of moisture/mold in the air.”

      Krista Hennessey-Jacks, English Teacher, has also been exposed to mold spores in her trailer. 

      “It’s positively worse coming back from the summer because they insist on turning the temp up in the trailers, which makes the trailer super muggy and a breeding ground for mold,” Hennessey-Jacks remarked.

      She has also had her fair share of health issues, like Goldsmith. 

      “I don’t know for certain, but I now have adult-onset allergies and the trailer mold may be responsible for this new development,” Hennessey-Jacks recalled. “Also, three years ago, I contracted pneumonia and had to take an ambulance ride to the ER due to unusual chest pains/ heart palpitations brought on by the lung condition.”

      Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) is a parameter that is measured in determining a building’s safety. Although Westfield maintains good indoor air quality generally, teachers may be worsening the air quality in their room without realizing it. According to the fact sheet “Mold and Mildew Prevention” given to staff and managers, saturating the air with aerosol fresheners and perfume is a common way teachers downgrade the air quality in their room. An overwhelming amount of air freshener makes it harder for students to focus on working. Also, the use of air fresheners increases the amount of volatile organic compounds (VOC) to the school environment, as the air in the room circulates around the whole school, and worsens the general indoor air quality of the building. This is also applicable to aerosol disinfectants.

      The condition of the trailers at times can be harsh, but teachers still view them as their own classrooms. 

      Hennessey-Jacks remarked, “Despite the cringy conditions of the trailer, I do love mine — I have done my best to make it ‘homey’ and a warm, welcoming environment for my students.”