Mo’ Mold, Mo’ Problems

Documents provided to The Signal last week through the state attorney general’s office have revealed that mold species discovered in the Metzger Student Apartments could pose a health risk to the surrounding community. The College maintains, however, that it is taking every precaution to make sure that students and Ewing residents are safe during the demolition process.

The Microbial Investigation Report, a document prepared for the College in September 2006 by Langan Engineering and Environmental Services, identifies seven distinct varieties of fungus present in the apartments that could pose a health risk.

While another company, Innovative Decon Solutions (IDS) of Tampa, Fla., was contracted to conduct remediation to kill live mold in the building, mold spores can still be released into the air during demolition.

“It doesn’t make (spores) go away, but it’s no longer capable of reproducing,” Bill Simms, owner of IDS, said in an interview last week. “The good thing about the dead mold spores is that they’re not going to drift somewhere and start growing again.”

The growths found in the apartment – acremonium, aspergillus versicolor, penicillum, cladosporium, paecilomyces, stachybotrys and trichoderma – are described in an attachment to the report. The attachment was prepared by EMSL Analytical Inc., a New York-based microbiology lab charged with analyzing the results of the cultures gathered from the apartments in August.

According to EMSL’s attachment, the molds have the potential to affect health, particularly the respiratory system. According to the report, aspergillus versicolor mold has the potential to produce a certain mycotoxin – a toxin produced specifically by fungi – which “is reported to be carcinogenic to the liver and kidney and it can cause such symptoms as diarrhea and upset stomach.”

Stachybotrys growth, according to the report, is also “significant because of the mold’s ability to produce mycotoxins which are extremely toxic.”

Officials at Langan, however, were quick to downplay the threat of toxicity from mold spores from the site.

“I think you should be careful with the word ‘toxic,'” Richard Steiner, professional engineer for Langan, said in a teleconference last week. “(By fogging) you’re killing the living stuff. Mold spores are very resilient. They can go into a dormancy state. We want to decrease the concentration so that when we do the demolition we can make sure it’s not becoming airborne. We’re not dealing with a toxic substance. Someone is not going to die because they live next to this process.”

Fogging is the process by which a gas biocide is sprayed within the building.

According to Frank “Shorty” Schultz, owner of Schultz Demolition, the company contracted to carry out demolition of the apartments and who subcontracted IDS, the College – rather than applying a conventional spray-on biocide to kill mold – pushed for fogging the mold.

“They wanted to do fogging, which gets into all the cracks. There are only a few companies that can do this fogging,” Schultz said.

Questions over remediation methods and, more simply, how to even describe the conditions within the buildings point to the lack of regulation within the industry. According to Sen. Shirley K. Turner, there are no state or federal statutes to oversee mold remediation.

“It seems as if this is a relatively new issue,” Turner said. “There are no state governmental regulations to address the issue.”

The state’s Department of Community Affairs (DCA) has confirmed its role in overseeing the project, but according to Chris Donnelly, a communications officer with DCA, “We make sure that any asbestos that might become . pulverized and airborne is removed and that all utilities are disconnected.” Donnelly made no mention of DCA’s role in monitoring airborne mold.

Bill Rudeau, director of construction in the College’s office of Campus Construction, sees the lack of regulations as offering the College the freedom to take whatever precautions are necessary to protect the workers, students and neighbors around the site.

“Since it’s not a regulated industry, we took the most stringent of protocols,” Rudeau said. “They’re taking the buildings down in an operating room environment. (The level of mold spores) are below the level that is considered acceptable within an operating room.”

In addition to fogging the buildings to kill live mold, five air monitoring stations have been set up around the buildings. Russell Van Sweden, a staff engineer with Langan, is on site during all demolition activities. Each of the five monitoring stations produces three samples per day.

At the end of the day the samples are transported to a lab for analysis. According to Langan officials, the test results have so far shown nothing that could pose a health risk to the community.

“We’ve just started to get data, but the stuff so far has been pretty good,” Steiner said.

“If we had consistent high concentrations that we felt were unusually high, the work would probably stop and we would re-evaluate the situation,” George Kelley, an official at Langan, said.

In addition to monitoring air quality throughout the demolition process, Schultz workers are spraying the buildings with water as they are being torn down and also as demolished material is being removed from the site. This prevents dust and other particles such as mold spores from becoming airborne.

“This is an unregulated industry we’re in. There’s nothing to say this number is good and this number is bad,” Steiner said, referring to mold spore counts from the air monitors. “The College has gone above and beyond what might be considered to be right, and that would be simply to tear down the buildings. They did not have to fog the buildings and kill it all. They did not have to take daily measurements. They did not have to do it in the wintertime,” Steiner added.

Doing demolition in the wintertime helps make sure that mold spores, which thrive in warm, wet conditions, stay dormant.

Nonetheless, the lack of regulation has been troubling to Ewing community members.

“Unfortunately, there isn’t a body of law on mold,” Jack Thomson, a Ewing resident whose house sits close to the demolition site, said. “There’s nothing there to back this process up.”

The concern over this aspect of the project has prompted Sen. Turner to sign on to a bill, the Toxic Mold Protection Act, submitted to the state legislature by Sen. Anthony Bucco in 2004 and reintroduced on Jan. 17. The bill would create a mold task force, made up of members from the health, environmental, insurance and construction fields to help create standards for permissible exposure to mold for the departments of Health and Senior Services and Community Affairs. The task force would also create standards for remediation in projects like the one at the College.

Meanwhile, Langan officials continue to defend their practices, claiming they do not need government intervention to ensure that they are keeping people safe from mold.

“Our job is to protect the community, whether it be the College or the people who live around there,” Brian Feury, a Langan engineer, said. “That’s the engineering oath we take and that’s the oath we live up to.”