Mold grows in basement of Longworth

Five different types of mold, some of them dangerous, are growing in a basement room in the Longworth building awaiting cleanup by the Architect of the Capitol (AoC), according to documents obtained by The Hill.

The presence of the molds, ranging in type from mild to very dangerous, was reported to the AoC in October.

The molds are still there despite a recommendation from the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) that the problem and attendant health hazard be dealt with immediately.

An Oct. 26 memo from the DHHS to the AoC’s safety specialist, Kenny Dayton, identified the molds and laid out recommendations about how to remove them.

The 11-page memo advised immediate remediation and recommended that, at a minimum, the mold should be removed and the affected areas thoroughly cleaned to prevent re-growth.

“All affected surfaces should be removed … all moveable items within the affected areas should be disposed of,” it read.

The document says the AoC should hire only a qualified contractor to do the work and stipulates that all affected surfaces be treated with an anti-microbial solution to prevent re-growth.

The Office of Compliance (OoC) confirmed that it had been informed of the mold and has almost completed a report, according to an inspector with the office.

Eva Malecki, a spokeswoman for the AoC contended that AoC has begun the clean up and stressed that the mold was not in a public area.

She added that personnel with access to the area had “the appropriate personal protective equipment” to prevent exposure.

“The AOC has been actively working to abate the tunnel area that experienced some mold growth,” she said. “The AOC applied a bleach solution to kill the mold and it is no longer growing…[and] has awarded a contract to complete the clean up of the dead mold over the next several weeks.”

The door to the room containing the mold has been sealed with duct tape to prevent staff being exposed to danger.

“We were told by the AoC that they hired a remediation company to [clean the room] within the next month,” said the inspector, who asked not to be named.

The inspector said that the OoC report would be published in the next month, but that the mold remediation was taking longer than expected.

“The bottom line is that this needs to be cleaned up,” the inspector said.

Capitol Power Plant tunnel crew members had expressed concern that the breathing equipment used to prevent asbestos exposure might not protect them against the mold; the inspector said the equipment works for mold too.

Aerotech P&K, a company based in Arizona and New Jersey, did the tests attached to the DHHS memo.

Aerotech found that the molds ranged from a fairly common indoor strain known to cause allergies to an extremely dangerous variety.

“Generally speaking all [molds] are known allergens in different people,” said David Fetveit, general manager for the Aerotech P&K laboratories. “How many square feet are affected … how much is found in the building is what matters.”

Experts say that each type of mold found could be an allergen to a sensitive individual, but the amount, type and extent of growth are all important.

“Stachybotrys chartarum [one of the five strains found in Longworth] is actually the one that is known as the ‘toxic black mold.’ That’s the one that most people are afraid of, but it’s half based on science and half based on media hype,” Fetviet said.

He warned that a mold problem could be overstated or understated, depending how much mold there is and how many people could be exposed to it either directly or through ventilation systems. 

David Fellman, executive director of the Indoor Air Quality Association, said mold is typically caused by water intrusion into a dry area. The molds in Longworth were caused by moisture from Capitol Power Plant utility tunnels, according the memo seen by The Hill.

Fellman said that one of the reasons mold may still be present in the building over two months after it was reported is that, unlike carcinogenic asbestos exposure, for which there are concrete rules and limits on exposure, there are no such rules for mold.

“It’s an unregulated hazard,” he said.