The Jasper County Board of Supervisors failed to act on or publicly disclose a recommendation for professional mold remediation issued in April after an air quality company found confirmation of black mold spores in the basement of the county annex building.
The lab analysis studied areas throughout the 88-year-old building but only found elevated levels of mold spores in the basement of the annex, which houses four county department office spaces. Professional mold remediation is recommended for an area in the northeast side of the building which serves as the Jasper County Health Department’s home health care aide’s office. However, the findings and recommendations were never disclosed to the health board or employees working in the area, according to the Jasper County Public Health Board Chairwoman Margot Voshell.
Tanner Francisco, a biologist and environmental hygienist with Midwest Indoor Air Quality who conducted the testing and sampling, said a six-page summary of its testing and recommendations provides an accurate breakdown of the findings.
“Due to the air being elevated for Stachybotrys mold spores and the surface sample and carpet sample confirmation of Stachybotrys and Chaeltomium mold spores, we recommend professional mold remediation for the Home Care Aide’s Office,” the report states.
Some species of Stachybotrys and Chaeltomium, commonly referred to as black mold, are known to produce toxins which can be detrimental to human health, Fransico said. Although both types of mold have more hazardous potential, he said it’s unlikely the current low amount of spores in the air would result in any symptoms from employees — unless they are unusually sensitive or directly disturb the visible mold growth.
Voshell has spent the past eight months advocating for the public health department, having addressed the board of supervisors about concerns with the annex building’s basement and the reduced capability of its operations there.
The supervisors notified Voshell about conducting a mold study, and she was told the results would be shared with the public health department once they came in, she said.
Voshell said she was surprised to hear the results were available in April. The findings of potentially hazardous mold within the home care aide’s office and the recommendation for professional mold remediation were not passed along to her or the public health staff, she said.
When Voshell was told by Newton Daily News about the report’s findings and recommendations, she said it raises questions about employee safety.
“It is an expectation that county officials share information in a timely manner on issues that may affect the health and well-being of their employees,” Voshell said.
The report also recommends water intrusion in the foundation walls throughout the basement should be corrected, and it may be advisable to have the walls in other areas of Jasper County Public Health (the immunization room and the environmental health director’s office) probed by remediators to determine if a small amount of mold growth may be present behind the walls.
An earlier mold analysis, performed by the same company in 2014, showed elevated levels of the common molds Chaetomium and Stachybotrys. Midwest Indoor Air Quality urged caution and said air scrubbers could remove living and dead mold spores from the air formerly occupied by Kevin Luetters, environmental health director, which is now the office of Becky Pryor, Jasper County Public Health Director.
Jasper County Maintenance Director Adam Sparks was present for the 2014 study and confirmed county officials responded by running air scrubbers in the space but despite a recommendation for similar remediation in the 2017 report, Sparks said he’s still waiting for direction from the supervisors about how to proceed with existing mold.
The 2017 mold study was sought in late March when supervisor chair Joe Brock referred to the 3-year-old mold report conducted by Midwest Indoor Air Quality and the board approved moving forward with a new analysis.
Brock did not respond to calls for an interview to discuss the results of the mold report by presstime Monday.
Fransico said Stachybotrys and Chaetomium carry a potential for higher risk, but acceptable mold exposure is difficult to calculate because it affects everyone differently.
“The primary purpose of our testing is to determine if there is a need for specialized remediation — is there types of mold present that could get worse or are they at levels it could impact people’s health ... is there a concern there,” Francisco said.
Sparks said the situation in the basement has not changed from the first instance of mold in 2014 to today, and there are varying opinions between employees on possible health concerns from working in the office space.
“I can’t answer that question for anybody else that may work there. Everybody is bothered by things differently whether it be mold, dust, grass you name it,” Sparks said. “... we all have allergies to something. I feel no harm myself.”
Sparks has seen the latest mold report and is aware of both the airborne and visible problems plaguing the annex basement, including bubbling and wet drywall caused by water infiltration from the foundation.
Any work on the interior of the building before the foundations and moisture issues are addressed, he said, could expose and disturb more mold behind drywall, cabinetry and other fixtures. This type of work would also require employees to temporarily relocate.
“Until the outside of the building is fixed, repaired and we stop water from coming in it’s a waste of taxpayer dollars to do anything on the inside because you’re going to tear it out and redo it,” Sparks said.
But until the board of supervisors comes to a clear decision on the annex, Sparks said he’s waiting like the other county employees affiliated with the building.
The 2017 mold analysis summary reports county employees raising concerns with the ongoing water intrusion issues. However, employees who work in the lower level of the basement — including Jasper County Economic Development Corporation Director Chaz Allen, human resources director Dennis Simmon, public health director Becky Pryor and community development director Nick Fratzke — all declined to comment on the building’s condition and directed questions to the board of supervisors.
When the Newton Daily News requested the mold analysis from Jasper County Auditor Dennis Parrott, who handles correspondence and public records for the supervisors, he said there are politics at play regarding the annex building.
“There’s a group of people wanting more space ... they need to realize it’s not dangerous ... but they want to force the issue,” Parrott said, adding that an employee was upset about not receiving the report. “We are under no obligation to share this report with any county employee.”
None of the county employees who work in the annex building would disclose whether they requested or received a copy of the mold analysis.
Engineering firm Shive-Hattery completed an investigation of the annex building and issued a report in June citing many issues with the building’s exterior foundation. After first deciding to do a space analysis of the building in March, the supervisors approved an agreement with Shive-Hattery in August and that study is still underway.
Ideas of how to address space concerns and the long list of foundation issues addressed in the Shive-Hattery study have ranged from visiting multiple building sites for relocation to Brock’s suggestion of building a new structure during an August board of supervisors meeting.
“We hope that after they have collected everything that they would share results and give us an action plan in the near future,” Voshell said. “I hope they are able to draw a conclusion and deliver that to the community.”
In a phone interview Friday, Jasper County Supervisor Doug Cupples said since the report was completed in April, he has not personally discussed it with representatives from Midwest Indoor Air Quality, but Cupples is “almost certain” the supervisors have discussed the report. He could not recall if that conversation happened in private or in open meeting. A review of Newton Daily News audio records shows Cupples briefly mentioned the report during an April 11 meeting, stating the board had received the results, and he would like to look into the findings further.
Cupples said the county auditor is arranging a presentation by Midwest representatives to the supervisors, but he doesn’t know why there’s been a nearly eight-month delay. No official date has been set for the air quality company to present to the board.
“What I hope for is to get the company who did the report and really break it down for us, because pretty much anything you hear at this point in the game is going to be somebody’s opinion. And that would be from me also,” Cupples said. “We need to actually hear from an expert.”
Cupples said he’s been frustrated with the pace of making decisions about the annex building, but he’s not convinced of the right solution. The supervisors, Cupples said, are still trying to collect more information about both the annex air quality and the health department’s space needs. For Cupples, building a brand new facility is not an option, and he suggests facts and people’s emotions could be intermixing.
“If (the mold) is dangerous to (the employees), then yeah, I’d be concerned. That’s the way I feel. If it’s not dangerous because it’s being overplayed somehow and peoples emotions are getting stirred up, then obviously we need to look at a different route, too,” Cupples said. “I’m for what’s best for the people, for the county, for the people that work there — what’s truly best for them. I don’t know what that is at this point.”
— Reporter Jamee A. Pierson contributed to this report.
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