Courthouse - Mold May or May Not Be Cause of Illness
Thu, Jan 30, 2003
Officials using neutralizer spray to clean air
By Julie Allison

The Morning News/NWAonline.net

ROGERS -- Peggy Butterbaugh has had pneumonia four times in 18 months, and she spent 10 days in the hospital last year.

Butterbaugh, who works in the Carroll County clerk's office, is one of several employees at the Carroll County Courthouse in Berryville who have suffered from illnesses that could not be explained.

Frequent sinus infections and respiratory problems are among the ailments that have led employees to wonder whether the building -- and its old air-conditioning units -- are to blame.

On County Judge Ed Robertson's recommendation, Lisa Taylor, a county administrative assistant, inspected the building's air-conditioning units, insulation, ductwork and vents.

Taylor, who said she has had more sinus infections in the two years she has worked at the courthouse than in the past, found black specks on some bricks, a tell-tale sign of mold growing in humid conditions.

Whether the mold is to blame for the health problems is still a question.

Butterbaugh, however, was off work for two weeks in September and experienced no problems.

"Within 30 minutes (of coming back to work), I was sneezing and coughing. Within six weeks, I had pneumonia," she said.

It is impossible to get rid of all mold and spores indoors, and inhaling or touching them may cause allergic reactions in sensitive individuals, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Web site.

If insulation gets wet -- which happened in the courthouse several years ago -- mold thrives, Taylor said.

Most of the air-conditioning units are the original units installed in the 1940s or early 1950s. In 1975, the county bought the building at 210 W. Church St. for use as a courthouse.

Robertson said mold in the units could be a problem, but neither he nor Taylor will say the courthouse is making people sick.

"Some people have had some respiratory ailments, with some amount of regularity," said Robertson. "We thought we should look around. But then there's a lot more people who haven't (experienced) anything."

Robertson said it is probably a good idea to replace the old air-conditioning units.

"It's an old building. We're going to have some problems," said Robertson.

Although the air in the courthouse has not been tested, Taylor said she contacted Carlisle Consulting Inc., an industrial-hygiene consulting service in Harrison.

"They told me that all they could tell me was if we had mold. I already knew that," Taylor said.

County officials chose not to hire the firm.

In the meantime, Taylor has been misting the rooms for about five minutes daily with Expel Heavy Duty Neutralizer, a fogger that works as an odor neutralizer.

"It breaks down the particles in the air and makes it cleaner," she said.

At $350 for the chemicals and the fogger machine, Expel is cheaper than replacing the air-conditioning units.

Taylor would not say Expel has eliminated the problem.

"In some cases, it has helped," she said.

Butterbaugh agreed.

"They have sprayed and you can tell a big difference. I have not had to return to the doctor except for a checkup," she said.

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