Working amid the mold
by Art Lawler, Athens Daily Review
Aug 6, 2002
Henderson County Courthouse employees are concerned about recent lab reports that show traces of stachybotrys, also known as black mold, and large amounts of aspergillus mold in their workplace.
A few were reluctant to talk about it Friday morning, fearing repercussions. “I need my job,” one of them said.
Others said they wanted to know more before forming an opinion, and several expressed a desire to have their offices and fellow employees moved out of the building until the mold situation is resolved.
Still others wondered aloud whether their best health interests were being put first.
“They’re taking the (law books with mold on them) out to be cleaned, and they are storing them until the mold is gone,” said a worker in a second-floor office who asked not to be identified. “What about the people?”
Amiee Freeman, an employee in the District Clerk’s Office, expressed similar sentiments.
“Our health is more important than a bunch of law library books,” she said. “They said they’re going to take the books out until the problem is fixed. But they need to get us out of the building, too, because our health is more important than the books.”
“Our feeling is — and I think I speak for everyone in here — I hope they put us first,” said Chief Deputy Jovonna Herrington in the District Clerk’s Office.
Lori Cincar, an assistant auditor in the County Auditor’s Office for the last couple of months, expressed confidence that the problem is being handled.
“I think the problem has been blown out of proportion,” she said. “I think the county is doing a good job of taking care of their employees.”
LaCosta Hitzelberger, a part-time worker in the District Clerk’s Office, is less confident. “I never had any health problems, but as soon as I had been here about six months, I had viral meningitis,” she said.
Debra Flowers, an assistant auditor in the County Auditor’s Office, has just returned from a two-month leave to treat thyroid cancer.
“I worked two days last week and then spent the weekend sick,” she said.
Asked why she returned to the courthouse environment, she said, “I need a job.”
She said consideration is being given to moving her out of the courthouse until the problem is solved.
Geri Strome, an assistant auditor and purchasing agent in the County Auditor’s Office, has been moved out of the courthouse.
“I moved out of my office per doctors orders as of last Wednesday,” she said. “He (her doctor) said he felt like my respiratory problems were related to the mold and fungus, and until I got out, I wasn’t going to get better.”
“I would like to see them move everybody out of the courthouse,” she added.
Told that the man who did the testing, Dan Guiter with Southwest Indoor Environmental Services, believed the building to be safe except for few isolated areas, Strome said, “I do not agree with that. The mold is moved through the air vents, and from the motion of people moving around in the building carrying it from one place to the other.
“Until it’s cleared up, it’s not safe for anybody.”
Strome listed her ailments as headaches; upper respiratory problems; laryngitis; memory loss; tired, itchy eyes; rash and a persistent cough.
A department head who asked not to be identified said she is experiencing health problems as well. “I’m having irritation of my eyes and I’ve been light-headed. I’ve experienced dizziness and exhaustion.”
She said one of the problems in her department was in the storage room where there are no windows and there is no ventilation. “There are books in there that we can’t touch,” she said.
“I just feel they need to move all of us out,” said a second-floor employee. “If they move a few out, they should move all of us out. It’s the whole courthouse.”
“My concern is, what are they interested in?” said Angie Ewaskiw in the District Clerk’s Office. “Are they interested in covering this up, or are they interested in my health?”
Others adopted a more cautious, wait-and-see attitude.
“I don’t know whether I should be worried or not,” said Troy Vaughn, a bailiff for the 173rd District Court, whose office is next to the second-floor courtroom. “But I’ve been working in the 173rd courtroom for years. Yeah, I’m scared. That’s just normal.”
The 173rd district courtroom has been closed down because of high levels of aspergillus, and Judge Jack Holland won’t hear trials and expose the public, attorneys and others to possible health problems.
“Actually, I haven’t had any symptoms,” said Amanda Hodges, an office assistant in the County Auditor’s Office. “I feel positive about what Dan (Guiter) and everybody is doing. I feel positive they’ll fix it.”
“I feel the commissioners are trying to address the issue, and I’m sure it’s a safe working environment for employees,” said Karin Smith, a six-year employee of the County Auditor’s Office and a candidate for County Treasurer. “I know everyone in the courthouse is concerned. I’m glad they’re looking at it.”
“I definitely think it affects some people more than others, but I don’t feel it’s unsafe,” said Karen Jones, who works a couple of days a week in the courthouse.
Another employee on the third floor said she is suffering from allergies, a running nose and dull headache. “It’s not very pleasant,” she said.
She said she would like to be moved out of the courthouse and would like to see others moved, too, until the mold problem is solved.