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Volume 68, Issue 4, Thursday, August 29, 2002

News
 
 

Mold in R. Cullen making faculty sick

By Ray Hafner
The Daily Cougar

An infestation of mold has descended on the Roy G. Cullen building, sickening faculty members, ruining books and angering some professors who say the administration has not done enough to address the problem.


Jim McCormick/The Daily Cougar


Mold grows on books and a bookshelf in one English professor's office in the Roy G. Cullen Building. Students have not been officially alerted to the problem.

Mold has been a problem in R. Cullen since Tropical Storm Allison damaged its roof and flooded its upper levels in June 2001. Faculty members say that early attempts to deal with mold failed and that it has returned worse than ever.

"If you look at some of the vacant offices they're furry," said one junior professor who asked to remain anonymous.

The problem was stressed by John McNamara, department of English chairman, in a letter to the dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, John Antel.

The letter, dated Sunday, states: "the problem is now reaching such proportions that several faculty have sought medical attention for allergic reactions," and "several of us are now on medications prescribed by physicians to offset these reactions."

The letter recommends three steps:
 

  • Dehumidifiers be placed in all faculty and staff offices.
  • A thorough cleaning of the building.
  • Classroom space be made available for faculty, staff and students who otherwise would be in "infested areas."
None of these steps have fully been taken yet. One dehumidifier was put in the worst room, Antel said. The largest mold growths are in the central, windowless faculty offices.

Despite the health risk, no official plan to alert students exists. Some professors warned students of the potential danger in the building, especially those with allergies, but any students lounging about the building probably would be completely unaware of any mold problems.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site recommends that people sensitive to allergens avoid areas that are likely to have mold. Symptoms can include asthma, rashes, sinus problems and nosebleeds.

A mold survey of the building conducted October 10, 2001, by Terra Mar, Inc., found "actual and potential fungal growth and amplification in the Roy Cullen building," according to TMI's report.

The report's recommendations included further investigation of mold, repairs to damaged ceiling tiles and walls, waterproofing the building and the development of a routine preventive maintenance schedule.

David Irvin, associate vice president of plant operations, said many of those actions were taken, but that it appears they did not work.

"We tried to be very aggressive and very proactive in attacking any mold," he said.

Irvin said his department got rid of the water, damaged tile, sheet-rock, leaky windows and roof sections that were affected. Any mold will be dealt with quickly and faculty and staff should report occurrences to the fix-it line, he said.

"We're on the same page with them in terms of how important an issue this is," he said.

Meanwhile at R. Cullen, evidence of mold was ubiquitous. A slight musty smell permeates the building, which one student said "always smells like that."

A professor showed books and shelves with a fuzzy, gray mold growing on them. He estimated that he had lost $50 to $100 in damaged books.

The type of mold is not known, although the TMI report says Cladosporium, a common form, was the most dominant last year.

The administration was beginning to take the problem seriously and that the infestation would be taken care of for good this time, McNamara said.

"The dean (Antel) is very supportive," he said.

A company is expected to examine all mechanical systems and recommend a course of action by the end of September.

One problem is that the antiquated air-conditioning units cause lots of condensation in the building, Irvin said.

Roy G. Cullen, built in 1939, is the oldest building on campus.

 Send comments to dcnews@mail.uh.edu

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