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March 23, 2004 - Mold forces vacating of Texas basement Auditorium Building graduate student offices relocated; Research Park made move possible

The Auditorium Building has once again become a source of scrutiny due to its lack of ventilation and mold-breeding moisture levels.

Two weeks ago, mold was re-discovered in the basement, home to the offices of some 30 part-time graduate instructors. In an effort to alleviate the recurring mold problem altogether, NT has vacated the basement and permanently relocated it's staff to nearby buildings.

James Tanner, chair of the English department, had 20 staff members moved into the Engineering Technology Building and the rest moved above ground.

Paul Dworak, director of the NT Systems Compliance Office, reported the mold to the Department of Risk Management and Environmental Services in response to complaints made, as did Vice Chancellor Richard Escalante. In return, an investigation was launched.

The mold was found on damp carpet, painted walls and vents -- all common breeding grounds for mold. Paint and dust provide the food source that fungi need to grow. Contrary to common belief, it's not the actual growing of the mold that is a problem. Gus Myers, director of Risk Management and Environmental Services, is concerned with the drying out of the mold, which releases spores -- the molds' allergens.

"I could work down there all day and it wouldn't bother me, but I'm not allergic to mold," Myers said. "For someone who is allergic to mold, I am not going to recommend they work down there."

A few months ago NT would not have been able to relocate so many staff members, but with the recent moving of many offices from the Engineering Technology Building to the Research Park facility, much of the space was available. The Auditorium Building provided the rest of the needed space.

Myers said he has been spending much of his time receiving phone calls and e-mails from worried students and staff and trying to relax their fears of the mold.

In the tests conducted by Steve Moody Micro Services Incorporated, less than 1 percent of the mold was Stachybotrys, commonly known as black mold. The majority of the mold consisted of the fungi Penicullium and Aspergillus, the most common problem molds found in office buildings. There were also traces of Cladosporium and Paecilomyces, but they also had less than 1 percent traces.

Those allergic to mold often suffer sinusitis, hay fever symptoms, sore throat, nosebleeds, headache and asthma symptoms. The symptoms can be even more severe with molds that release mycotoxins. These are the spores released by "toxic mold" that cause hemorrhaging and pulmonary hemosiderosis, especially in infants.

Risk Management took all steps to ensure that the staff was not at risk and has recommended a list of remedies remedies for reducing the mold, if not kill it all together. According to Myers, the mold isn't as hard to get rid of as people think and won't cost that much.

Risk Management does not believe the removal will cost more than $2,000, and the basement will be transformed into a storage facility.

In the meantime, all doors and carpet will be removed to increase air circulation. Non-porous surfaces will be sprayed with a 10 percent bleach solution and porous surfaces the mold is embedded in will be replaced.

"There is a reason most buildings in Texas don't have basements," Myers said. "The humidity's too high. It's not just here mold is a problem; you look in any other basements [and] you'll find the same problems."

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