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Mold in El Paso County Jail could cost $1 million to fix

Updated: Tuesday, July 23 2013, 11:10 PM MDT

By: Genevieve Curtis

EL PASO, Texas --

About 500 jail inmates are being moved out of the El Paso County Downtown Detention Facility after mold was discovered in April.

A spokesperson for the Sheriff's Office said white, green and black mold was found on all 11 floors of the jail.

"Mold was found to be present in the HVAC supply and return units on all 11 floors of the EPCDDF as well as in the supply and return duct work throughout the facility," said Chris Acosta, the public information officer for the Sheriff's Office.

That's forcing the Sheriff's Office to move 500 federal prisoners to other facilities in Sierra Blanca and Otero County. Because of that, the county will lose $70 a day the federal government pays it to house a single inmate. The removal of 500 prisoners means a loss that amounts to $35,000 a day. Right now, the Sheriff's Office estimates it will take 14 days to clean and remove the mold. Under that schedule, the county would lose an estimated $490,000.

On Monday, county commissioners approved spending nearly $450,000 on mold removal and cleanup.

"Mold work is expensive, you have to contain everything, you have to remove the occupants and you have to protect the workers," said Paul Pietschman, the owner of Southwest Mold Detection. Pietschman is not handling the county jail mold case but spoke to KFOX14 about mold in general.
Pietschman explained why it is important and prudent to remove the prisoners.

"When a cleanup process begins, usually there are three basic rules. One, don't spread the mold; usually that's quarantining the area. Number two; don't expose the occupants to the mold. If it's a hazardous mold then in that case sometimes the occupants might be moved from the facility. The third rule, don't expose the workers to the mold," said Pietschman.
The exact species of mold has not yet been identified and while it might be toxic on some level, Acosta said there is "no indication of dangerous levels."
"Just by just looking at it you can't tell. There are hundreds of molds that are the color black, so which mold is it? The only way to tell, is to take samples and have it run through a certified lab that can actually identify the species. You would have to know what mold you are dealing with up front so that at the end process you can do testing to certify the building is healthy for the inmates or the occupants," said Pietschman.

We were told by the Sheriff's Office we are not allowed to take video and they could not send us photos of the mold for safety reasons and that only authorized and properly-trained experts could enter the affected areas.

The Sheriff's Office believes the old evaporative coolers that were replaced seven to eight years ago might be the cause of the mold.

Pietschman said it is possible the mold stayed dormant for years.

"The biggest thing is to take care of your equipment, if you're running an HVAC system make sure it's running efficiently that the moisture level is within normal ranges," said Pietschman.

Pietschman explained mold is allergenic and so it affects different people differently and it also depends on the species of mold.

"Some of the more common ailments associated with the exposure to mold include respiratory issues, runny noses, bloody noses, coughing, sneezing, some people report skin lesions, there can be some mental lapses. So lots of different things depending on species of mold," he said.

Mold in El Paso County Jail could cost $1 million to fix

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