08/01/06 — Duplin battles mold in offices

View Archive

Duplin battles mold in offices

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on August 1, 2006 1:49 PM

Mold problems have sent Duplin County District Attorney Dewey Hudson and his staff into other counties' offices while their space at the County Courthouse is cleaned.

And the District Attorney says it is about time something is done to fix the courtroom problems, which have been making his staff sick for some time.

The Duplin County manager's office recently received the state's recommendation concerning the mold issue. And, until their offices are safe, DA's office personnel have been assigned to offices in Sampson and Onslow counties.

David Lipton, an industrial hygiene consultant for the Administrative office of the Courts, recently reported to acting Duplin County Manager Mike Aldridge that a digital hygrothermometer installed by the DA's office staff registered relative humidity in excess of 80 percent. When the relative humidity exceeds 60 percent for lengthy periods, Lipton said some building materials might absorb enough water to support mold growth.

The uncontrolled relative humidity was one of three reasons for concern Lipton cited in his report. Water damage and mold growth on drywall in one of the offices in the DA's suite also were noted as well as mold growth under vinyl wall coverings in several offices.

Lipton recommended that a mechanical engineer evaluate the heating and air system in the building and clean the walls and remove the vinyl wall coverings and baseboards in several offices. He suggested replacing the vinyl wall covering with something vapor-permeable, whether that is wallpaper or paint. And for the cleanup, he recommended a strong detergent such as tri-sodium phosphate. He said these detergents will remove organic materials from the surface better than bleach solutions.

Aldridge said he is hoping to do some speedy repairs to the DA's office and remediate the problem so the staff can move back in.

The mechanical engineer is coming Wednesday to look over the heating and air system.

Aldridge said he thinks the staff will be back in Duplin County soon.

"I don't anticipate having to do any lengthy repairs," he said.

Hudson isn't so sure.

He said he believes it could take up to six months to do the job right.

Hudson said it is time to fix the problems in the courthouse.

"They really don't care much about the court system in Duplin County," he said. "(Duplin) broke off from Sampson County in the 1780s because of the courthouse issue."

Back then, the courthouse was too far away.

Today, the little courtroom, which was built in 1979, still has the original carpet.

"It looks like a third world country courtroom, and we've needed a third courtroom for decades," he said. "I've begged them. The judges have begged them, but they'd rather build a horse barn."

He said even visitors to the Kenansville's office have left feeling ill -- sometimes after only a few hours there.

"Some who work there say, 'You get to leave, and we have to stay here and be sick.' You can smell it in the air. It's a damp smell."

Mold has been an ongoing problem at the courthouse, Hudson said. He said a contractor years ago installed a faulty roof, which has leaked for 10 or 12 years, he said.

"Who is going to allow their home's roof to leak 10 years?" he asked.

The county recently replaced the roof, but the mold remains in some places in the courthouse.

"A few years ago they put in airtight windows and turned off the air conditioning on weekends. It created a hot, moist environment, perfect for growing mold," Hudson said.

The vacated DA office is where the county manager used to have his office.

"You bet if he was still there the situation would not still exist," Hudson said, adding that it was about 10 years ago when the county manager's office moved to its current location on Seminary Road.

"I am very angry, because my employees have all the health issues they've got. One has cancer, and she believes that's the cause."

He said the circumstantial evidence is overwhelming. He promoted one of the assistant district attorneys, and she came to Duplin half a week and stayed in Sampson half a week. He said she got so sick she begged him to cut her pay and send her back to Sampson as a receptionist.

"I had to do something," he said. "(The assistant DAs) all knew whenever they went to Kenansville they were going to have to start taking allergy shots. They were getting skin rashes, too."

And the problem is all over the courthouse, he said, adding the two deputy clerks of court developed rashes.

Clerk of Court Katie Harrell said she has sent a memo to her deputy clerks asking them to respond as to whether they have health concerns they believe to be related to mold. Some of her deputy clerks have sinus trouble and other health issues, but she said she doesn't know if those problems are directly related to the mold.

There is visible mold in the DA office, she said, "and if you look behind the wallpaper in some other offices you will probably find some."