Commission addresses mold problem at Family Services Center

Blount County Commission

At an emergency special meeting Friday, Circuit Judge Steven King briefed the Blount County Commission on actions he initiated recently to assess health conditions by contracting for professional air quality testing in the juvenile probation office area of the Family Services Center. King said he did so in his role as presiding judge with assigned responsibility for the health and safety of county employees and the fitness of county offices, particularly those having to do with the discharge of court functions.

The preliminary test, provided to the commission, found black mold spore levels in a portion of the area high enough to cause health symptoms for persons with elevated susceptibility. Symptoms among less susceptible persons would be expected to be less pronounced, if present. King said that description fit the circumstances experienced by employees in the area over time.

A presentation of preliminary findings by Allan Sloan, sales representative for Enviroco, the Oneonta firm that conducted the testing, led to extensive discussion on the need for immediate remediation, and the details on how it could be carried out with the least disruption of ongoing court-related functions in the workplace.

Sloan reported that the area most affected appeared to be the front office of the space occupied by the juvenile probation organization, with the file room and at least two adjoining offices affected, but to a lesser degree. In addition, more complete air quality testing in nearby areas of the building was in progress while the special meeting was in progress. Standing water and remediation protocol

Sloan said examination of the crawl space under the building revealed an area of standing water situated more or less directly below the area where the highest airborne spore count was registered. He said the water accumulation was probably chronic, that it was largely responsible for the mold presence in the office area immediately above, and that removing the water, repairing the leak that caused it, and drying out the entire area was a major remediation step in correcting the problem. He said that was doable with his company’s equipment within a matter of a few days.

Sloan said other major steps involved thoroughly “scrubbing” the air supply in the affected office areas with machines designed to circulate and recirculate the air for that purpose, and wiping down all affected surfaces floors, walls, ceilings, furniture, fixtures, even files, with a chemical solution to greatly lower the concentration of mold and mold spores in the environment. Employees would need to leave the area immediately, taking only their personal possessions, which would be wiped down as they left the building, he said.

Subsequent discussion centered on the length of time required to complete the remediation treatments, and provision for treating areas sequentially in such a way as to minimize employee dislocation, allowing court functions to continue to be carried out while the process is being completed. A firm estimate of time required for complete remediation was not cited, but the sense of the discussion suggested a period of a week, perhaps a bit more or less, with employees not having to be away from their normal work space the entire time, as the total area can be closed off, treated, and reopened in stages. Commission actions

The commission passed three motions to govern the process of decontaminating the building and returning to normal operation.

• The first motion authorized Enviroco to begin remediation immediately with the considerations discussed, at an estimated cost of $12,000, with a caveat that additional areas of the building could be found to need treatment based on expanded air quality testing taking place concurrently.

• The second motion named commissioner Dean Calvert, building superintendent William Blythe, and circuit clerk Cindy Massey to interface with Enviroco concerning the closing and opening of various access points to the affected areas, and specifically concerning access to the file area, the selection and decontamination of working files needed in the interim before re-entry of employees to their normal work space, and the decontamination of all remaining files in storage with due attention to the need for file confidentiality.

• The third motion declared the commission’s emergency authority to open and close areas of the Family Services Center to both employees and the public as needed during the remediation process. It also authorized King to visit all work areas in the building at his discretion and to make all necessary notifications to inform tenants of the remediation effort. The commission specified that no one is allowed to reenter designated closed areas of the building until specifically cleared by the commission, although whether included in this motion is unclear.