Mold detected in courthouse

areas cleaned

Fungi not dangerous, but may affect allergies, authorities caution

`I think it's all over the building

'

Workers continue testing behind walls, in ducts

October 09, 2002|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,SUN STAFF

High concentrations of mold were found in three courtrooms and in office areas of the state's attorney and court clerk in Howard County's circuit courthouse, county officials said yesterday.

Environmental testing on the old, cramped building revealed four different fungi, none of which is dangerous but all of which might cause allergic reactions in employees who may be sensitive to the substances, according to an update circulated yesterday to building employees.

Mold ranging from common fungi to mildew to "bread mold" was found in five samples taken from the three courtrooms, from two samples taken from peeling paint on a stairway wall in the state's attorney's office and from two areas in Clerk of the Circuit Court Margaret D. Rappaport's space, according to the update.

But other samples from the clerk's office lunchroom and near clerks' work stations were found to be "a sugary drink like fruit juice or a carbonated soda," the report says.

County employees have cleaned the mold off the walls and plan to spend the next few weekends testing behind the courtroom walls to see if the building's drywall is causing the mold, said James M. Irvin, Howard's public works director.

The county will also test the heating and air-conditioning duct work near the affected areas, he said.

"We want to find a way to make sure it doesn't come back," he said.

While the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration has no standards to regulate mold growth, "exposure to high levels of molds causes some illnesses in susceptible people," according to a statement from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The molds found in the courthouse have been associated with respiratory problems and allergic reactions, according to various Web sites detailing the fungi.

The mold tests were among the last performed by the county in a long series of environmental checks in the building in the wake of a top-to-bottom review of the courthouse structure by state occupational health workers.

With courthouse employees complaining of everything from irritated eyes to congestion to respiratory infections, Rappaport called officials with the Maryland Occupational Safety and Health office to the building in the spring.

Courthouse employees talk of watching mold grow from spots to swaths over a few months and of clerks who suffered coughing fits while working in the courtrooms.

"I never had sinus problems until I started working in this building," said Leslie Cale, the court reporter for Judge James B. Dudley. "And they never let up."

And while the county's recent mold results seemed to imply yesterday that there were no significant problems in the clerk's office, Rappaport said she believes there may be fungi in places the county did not test.

"If it's growing [in the courtrooms], then it's got to be growing here," she said, noting that employees are still complaining of health problems.

"I think it's all over the building in the vents."

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