Tests turn up mold spores in one annex office

By Thomas Wilson
STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

  
A type of mold spore has been detected in one office of the Carter County Courthouse Annex building after an environmental services firm conducted air quality and mold tests around the building earlier this month.
   County Mayor Dale Fair confirmed testing by the Blountville-based S&ME engineering firm found airborne stachybotrys present in an office in the Carter County Sheriff's Department used by the criminal investigations division (CID). The sheriff's department is located on the first floor of the courthouse annex.
   "That office is on a floor that has carpet on top of tile," said Fair who received verbal and written reports about test results last week.
   A second round of testing is planned for the CID office to determine the extent of the mold's presence. He said engineers felt the mold became airborne when the carpet was walked on by persons coming in and out of the office.
   S&ME took substance and air samples from several areas in the Annex including the sheriff's department, courtrooms, and the office of the circuit court clerk. Samples were also taken from two jail cells in the second-floor detention center, Fair said. Two small water pipe leaks were detected in the ceiling during the sampling.
   S&ME officials were back at the annex on Friday morning to conduct additional testing in the CID office.
   "If it is, we will have to tear that carpet up," said Fair.
   Some county employees working at the courthouse annex told the Star that they believed their respiratory problems including allergy irritation, sinus infections, and a persistent cough could be the result of air quality. Employees said their respiratory problems worsened two years ago after jail inmates flooded the building's sewer system sending urine and excrement into first floor offices and courtrooms.
   "Black mold", a more familiar term for stachybotrys chartarum, can cause symptoms like nasal stuffiness, eye irritation or wheezing in people who are sensitive to it, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta.
   Fair said he had spoken with Sheriff John Henson regarding the test results. He said Henson had developed a plan to relocate investigators in that office if more testing indicated the carpet needed to be removed and the floor cleaned.
   The testing was conducted three weeks after mold was discovered in a storage room at the Carter County Courthouse building in mid-October during a routine inspection by the Tennessee Occupational Health and Safety Administration. Test results that were also conducted by S&ME found the mold was not hazardous to humans, according to the county. The room, located across the hall from county Clerk and Master Charlotte McKeehan's office, has been sealed off since the mold discovery was made.
   Molds are very common in buildings and homes and can grow anywhere indoors where moisture is present, according to the CDC. Black mold can grow on material with a high cellulose and low nitrogen content, such as fiberboard, gypsum board, paper, dust, and lint.
   The Environmental Protection Agency reports that there is no practical way to eliminate all mold and mold spores in the indoor environment, and controlling moisture should prevent mold growth. The effects of indoor air quality problems are often nonspecific symptoms rather than clearly defined illnesses.
   Fair said he expected to have more test results for the CID office by the middle of the week.