By Rob Alway
LUDINGTON — The presence of black mold has been discovered at the Mason County Sheriff’s Office, located on North Delia Street.
Sheriff Kim Cole told the MCP that measures are taking place to address the issue.
Sheriff Cole said the issue stems from a department investigation that started in December after Cole was appointed undersheriff; Cole’s term as sheriff began Jan. 1.
“I was sitting in my office and looked up at the air duct,” he said. “I thought I would look into when the last time the air ducts had been cleaned.” Cole said he wasn’t able to find records of the ducts being cleaned. The current facility was renovated and expanded in the mid-1990s.
Cole and Undersheriff Jody Hartley then brought the air duct cleaning issue up to the county’s safety and courts committee during its January meeting. At that time, they mentioned the possibility of mold due to several water leaks throughout the building and the fact that the air circulation is centralized in the building. During that meeting, Cole mentioned that, in addition to the water issues, mold could be developing in the department’s evidence room, which contains several contaminants. All the air is recycled throughout the building, he said.
The issue was then brought up to the county’s finance committee, which recommended more extensive bidding.
In the meantime, Cole said further investigation started to take place with the office’s possible mold and water issues.
The department hired Absolute Services of Scottville to look further into some trouble areas. “They tore out some drywall and that’s when we discovered the mold,” Cole said.
It is likely the mold has developed from leaks caused by the jail’s showers, from water leaking from an exterior wall and from the recycled air in the building, Cole said.
An environmental testing company was then hired and determined the type of mold that was found was Stachybotrys. There are over 50 variants of Stachybotrys, but the most common is black mold. Exposure can have a wide range of effects, depending on length of exposure and volume of spores inhaled or ingested.
Cole said the environmental firm determined that particular mold was contained to the office’s basement, which he immediately shut down.
“They believe that any mold found on the main floor has been carried up by our clothing or by other materials such as paper,” the sheriff said. “But, there isn’t an immediate danger in the primary office area.”
Strands of mold were also found in two of the jail cells, which were also immediately shut down, Cole said. Those molds were not airborne.
Cole said he has been in communication with County Administrator Fabian Knizacky and County Board of Commissioners Chairman Chuck Lange, along with other county commissioners. He said all are on board with making the repairs a top priority.
“I believe it is the sheriff’s responsibility to maintain this facility,” Cole said. “My top priority is the safety and health of the staff and prisoners. However, I also believe it is important to have open communication with the county board. Together, I know we’ll be able to get this building back to the standard the taxpayers expect.
Cole said Knizacky is heading up the efforts to make the repairs. Cole said the county board is expected to discuss the topic at its meeting Tuesday at 9 a.m.