by Angela Lee – Reporter, Statesboro (Ga.) Herald
July 24, 2002
Georgia Southern officials are in full battle against an enemy they admit is hard to control – mold that some fear can make people sick.
“The problem has been identified. We’ve done a fairly extensive cleanup. We’re doing further testing. And air testing” could come in the future, says university spokesman Michael Sullivan.
“As far as we know, no one has become ill,” he continued.
Recent reports have Georgia Southern officials looking at mold in a different light.
Some experts claim fungi like the ones detected in four university buildings can cause allergic reactions, sinus congestion and respiratory problems. Several deaths reportedly have been attributed to the mold problem that has been detected throughout the United States.
Georgia Southern’s mold problem came to light in May when mold was detected the health services and communication arts facilities, Williams Center and Anderson Hall.
Campus environmental experts examined the buildings and, shortly after that, distributed an intracampus memo, dated May 30, 2002, recommending guidelines on the assessment and remediation of mold growth inside campus buildings.
The memo says the environmental experts discovered problems including “insect fragments, dust/dirt, and flea infestation.”
And “all of these facilities not only had various types of fungi growing but also had stachybotrys identified within these structures,” environmental health & safety manager Gene Anderson reported. Experts consider stachybotrys among the more dangerous molds.
Test results showed “massive” amounts of stachybotrys and “abundant” amounts of cladosporium and penicillin/aspergillus were found in the communication arts building, the health services facility, the Williams Center and Anderson Hall.
The memo warned that, although a “limited number of documented cases of health problems from indoor exposure to fungi” have occurred, illness “can result from both high level, short-term exposures and lower level, long-term exposures.”
The document attributes a “wide variety of symptoms” to the “toxic effects of fungi.” The most common symptoms reported include runny nose, eye irritation, cough, congestion, aggravation of asthma, headache and fatigue.
But, Anderson stressed, fungi on building materials would not necessarily expose people in those buildings. “In order for humans to be exposed indoors, fungal spores, fragments or metabolites must be released into the air and inhaled, physically contacted (dermal exposure) or ingested,” he reported. “Whether or not symptoms develop in people exposed to fungi depends on the nature of the fungal material (e.g.,, allergenic, toxic, or infectious), the amount of exposure, and the susceptibility of exposed persons.
That presented university officials with a big “if.” So they started a clean-up effort to remedy the problem.
“We went into all the buildings” affected and did some “fairly extensive cleanup,” Sullivan says. “We think we have it under control.”
The health services building got new carpet and sheetrock. Problem areas like ceiling tiles were replaced in the Williams Center and Anderson Hall. The communication arts facility will be getting a new roof in the weeks to come.
In addition, Sullivan said university officials have hired an environmental consultant who will evaluate what’s been done and what needs to be done in the future.
“Spores in the air could cause problems,” the spokesman says, and samples taken “didn’t tell the whole story. We really want to make sure everything’s okay. We want to make sure nobody’s in danger.”
Sullivan stresses Georgia Southern officials are serious about “preventing future” incidents and the next phase of the battle against mold will focus on that. They also know it’s an enormous task considering that the campus includes 75 major buildings that cover nearly a 100-year time span.
He said more building repairs and air testing could come in the weeks to come.
“We’re doing everything we can to stay on top of it,” the university spokesman said.