A nasty mold at the Governor’s Mansion sent South Carolina ‘s first family packing. The building – reopened three years ago after the state spent $5.6 million renovating the downtown Columbia building – has been home to governors since the 1870s and was built as faculty quarters for Arsenal Military Academy in 1856.
First lady Jenny Sanford said stachybotrys chartarum has caused health problems with family and staff members. The mold was first discovered last August, she said. In one upstairs bedroom closet, mold was found after the family returned from vacation. “Our clothes were covered with mold and there was mold growing out of light sockets up the wall,” Sanford said. “Suffice it to say, I was concerned. It was in certain areas of the house, not everywhere,” she said. The mold returned this year, and has been found in the basement and attic, she said.
The state Budget and Control Board, which oversees maintenance on the building, put in manual controls intended to reduce humidity last August. “But they never went any further and never did any further investigative work,” Sanford said. “They left that all to me, which did not sit right with me. She hired a Charleston engineer to review how the air handling system in the building was put together.
In March, the engineer came to the conclusion that system hadn’t been built properly. “To date, nothing has been done along those lines,” she said. “Given that there are little children there and there are still people working there, I’ve been quite disappointed in the lack of attention that the guys in charge of the Budget and Control Board have given us,” Sanford said.
Tests results were available Thursday that showed the mold is a variety that can be toxic and “is airborne throughout the upstairs where we live,” Sanford said. She said she only learned of the results Monday when she asked for them. Mike Sponhour, the board’s spokesman, said state workers never stopped looking at the problem, particularly because of the health concerns. “We understand the concern the first lady has for the health of her family and children. We take that very seriously,” Sponhour said. “We’re committed to doing everything we can to fix the problem and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Part of that effort began over the weekend when a contractor began working on air ducts. But it was necessary for the Sanfords to leave and close the building to visitors so that more extensive work could be done. Sponhour said the independent contractor would remove ducts and other air handling equipment from the building so it can be cleaned.
There is no estimate of how long it will take, Sponhour said. Sanford said she expects to be out of the residence for at least three weeks. If the family needs a place to stay while the work proceeds, Sponhour said the board will take care of that. Sponhour said the air conditioning system isn’t powerful enough to cool the mansion and keep humidity low. Humidity below 50 percent inhibits mold growth, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sanford bought and ran a dehumidifier for months. Sunday night the humidity was at 69 percent, she said.