Mold is suspect in building closure
By Noel Lyn Smith
WINDOW ROCK, Sept. 26, 2011
(Special to the Times - Donovan Quintero)
The building, which houses the Division of Finance, was ordered closed "indefinitely" on Sept. 9 by the Navajo Nation Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which enforces federal and tribal workplace safety laws.
Last Friday about 30 employees stood outside Admin No. 1 with empty boxes, waiting for Incident Management Team members to retrieve documents from the building.
Each department was asked to provide a priority list of essential documents needing retrieval.
A female employee who declined to identify herself said she smelled a "glue like" substance days before the closure. Other employees declined to comment and referred questions to the Incident Management Team.
Before entering the building, retrieval team members dressed in white protective suits and sterile gloves.
A clean room was set up inside and the requested items were brought into that room for decontamination before being removed from the building.
Incident Management Team members returned to the site Monday to continue the remediation process.
NOSHA Director Patrick Sandoval said the investigation and subsequent closure of the building was prompted by complaints from employees.
"It's the employee's right to have a safe working environment but it's the employer's responsibility to provide that environment," Sandoval said.
This is the second time the building was closed due to mold in the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system, where mold spores can be sprayed into the air and inhaled by occupants. The first closure was Sept. 1-5.
As crucial documents were being retrieved last week, Dave Nez with the tribe's Public Health Emergency Preparedness Office explained that an independent Arizona state-certified microbiologist collected samples to analyze and the results will be released to the Incident Management Team.
Nez said the building had water stains on interior walls and some inside paneling showed signs of bacteria or fungus growth. The mold, which can cause severe respiratory problems, thrives in dark, damp conditions.
Based on assessment reports, a large contributor to the problem is the declining condition of the roof and seepage of moisture into the building, according to an Incident Management Team press release.
The exact age of the building is unknown by most officials estimate it is about 30 years old. It has a history of problems, including a waterline break in 2007 that caused significant water damage.
Executive Office Communications Director Laphillda Tso said Tuesday that the test results had not been released. After they are received the Incident Management Team will determine how to remediate the building, she said, adding that an update on the situation was expected Wednesday.
Mold colonies can start to grow on a damp surface within 24 to 48 hours and reproduce by releasing tiny spores that float through the air until landing in other locations, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Mold will continue to grow until steps are taken to eliminate the source of moisture and kill the existing colony.
Only certain molds are toxigenic, which means they can produce toxins but are not toxic by themselves.
It is the mold's ability to destroy organic material that makes it a health problem for people.
Typical symptoms reported from mold exposure include respiratory problems, nasal and sinus congestion or coughing, irritation to the eyes, nose, throat or skin, headaches and body pains.
Individual with existing respiratory conditions, infants, children, pregnant women, and the elderly are at higher risks for adverse health effects, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
There is no way to eliminate mold but it can be kept to a minimum by preventing moisture from collecting inside. Water seepage, whether from an old roof, leaking pipe, or poor drainage, should never be ignored. Fix leaks immediately and dry out the area that got wet.
No routine inspections
"The Navajo Nation is obligated and liable for upkeep and maintenance services to ensure a safe and healthy work environment for its employees," according to information posted on the Division of General Services Web site.
However, the tribe does not conduct routine inspections on tribal buildings, said Facilities Management Department Manager Marcus Tulley. Tulley's department provides repairs and maintenance services to 625 tribal-owned facilities across the Navajo Nation.
Tulley said his department does maintenance service on buildings but only when an employee reports a problem or if an order is issued by NOSHA, the Office of Environmental Health, or the Safety and Loss Control Program.
Information about the closure of Administration Building No. 1 is posted at the building's entrances in addition to copies of the order of closure.
The programs housed there have been relocated as follows:
- Most of the controller's office is now operating out of the Dine Education Center auditorium.
- The Credit Services Department is located at the Ethics and Rules conference room.
- Both the Cashier's Department and some Accounts Payable staff have relocated to Property Management Department in Fort Defiance.
- Most of the Office of Management and Budget is housed in the Department of Information Technology, but OMB's Contracts and Grants section is located at the Department of Behavioral Health Services conference room in Administration Building No. 2.
- Administration staff for the Division of General Services is in the Department of Information Technology.
- The Insurances Services Department, and Employee Benefits and Workers Compensation programs are located at the Safety Loss Control Program office inside the Navajo Nation Shopping Center.
- Risk Management is located at the Navajo Nation Museum.
- The Design and Engineering Services Program is located at the Division of Community Development conference room in Administration Building No. 2 but the project management staff is located at the Rural Addressing Office at Navajo Nation Shopping Center.
- The Department of Personnel Management is located at the Training Center.
Most departments have retained the same telephone number and people may call them, or the president's office, for location information, Tso said. The president's office also instructed KTNN to announce the relocations.
"We asked them to send out information daily because it's public information and to relieve the stress on the public that comes out to these departments," she said.
The building may be closed, but shuttering the Division of Finance was never an option, said Herman Shorty, director of the Office of Environmental Health.
"That's the heartbeat of the Navajo Nation," he said. "Everything that is key to the Navajo Nation is associated with that building, so you can't close down operations."comments powered by Disqus