Mold found in Diné education center, building closes

By Alastair Lee Bitsoi
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, May 31, 2013

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O Mold has been detected at the Navajo Nation Department of Diné Education Building, prompting tribal officials to voluntarily close down the building until tests by Cave Creek, Ariz. - based Enviroscience Consulting, Inc. confirms the nature and extent of the fungus.

That's according to Erny Zah, spokesman for Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly, who contacted the Navajo Times, as way to inform the public of what he says is "voluntary closure."

"If there are employees willing to work they can work," Zah said Thursday afternoon. "We're still waiting for Enviroscience."

He added that based on the findings of Enviroscience, the next course of action would take effect.

The building, also referred to as DODE, houses approximately 190 tribal employees who work at various offices, including Head Start, the scholarship office, Johnson O'Malley program, and the superintendent of schools Andrew Tah's office. Those employees were placed on administrative leave Thursday until further notice.

Based on the hourly updates he's had with officials from Navajo Nation Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the part of the building that houses the offices of Head Start, scholarship and superintendent tested positive for mold.

"Seventeen samples were taken yesterday and 15 of the samples tested positive for mold," Zah said. "We know mold was found in the DODE side of the building."

NOSHA senior safety technician Shawnevan Dale confirmed there was mold, after a DODE employee was told by his medical doctor that mold particulates in the air were the reason for ongoing respiratory problems. Dale has referred media interviews to Zah.

As for the Office of the Controller, which had been relocated from Administration 1 on September 9, 2011 to the auditorium of DODE because of mold, the contamination of mold there wasn't as prevalent.

Zah said in the auditorium, where the Office of the Controller is housed, 12 different areas were examined for mold, with only three areas testing positive.

"They were areas where dust had been collecting," he said.

He explained that NNOSHA is recommending the cleanup of those areas and keeping the doors of the auditorium closed off as much as possible from the part of the building with more extreme mold contamination.

"We're going into the next level to see how much mold is in the air and on the surface," Zah added about the tests conducted by Environscience. "From there will determine our next course of action. Do we need to wipe down or take more drastic measures?"

As for the status of the Administration Building No. 1 and Administration Building No. 2, which also was closed on Jan. 4 and condemned by DC Restoration of Mesa, Ariz., Zah said at this point the buildings have been remediated and are undergoing renovation.