BROCKTON – A dark, powdery film of fungus clouds the area around a vent in the ceiling of a room on the second floor of the Brockton Public Library main branch where microfilm is kept.
An outbreak of black mold is costing the Brockton Public Library, and workers have expressed concerns about the health threat posed by the spores and dust that have drifted down onto desks, books and other surfaces throughout the facility.
Members of the Brockton Library Board of Trustees discussed the problem during a public meeting on Monday night, stating that an initial surface cleanup was conducted and that health inspectors have declared it a safe work environment.
But more extensive remediation that is required to rid the black mold from the air ducts throughout the building won’t take place for several weeks and will cost tens of thousands of dollars to complete.
“I thought it was pretty bad,” said Michael Lombardo, who was at the library on Wednesday, using the microfilm room to research the history of Brockton’s Italian community. “It creates all sorts of health problems, particularly for the people who are working there, the older patrons and particularly kids.”
A union representing workers at the library recently expressed concern about the mold issue, which “facilitated” a visit last week by state inspectors who determined the building was safe to work at, said Keith Choquette, who has been serving as the interim director of the Brockton Public Library. Choquette said he believes the way the union took action, triggering the inspection, was a “good thing.” For now, dehumidifiers have been set up as a temporary measure to address the situation, he said.
“Inspectors have not in any case said there was any sort of health problem or an emergency situation that would lead to a different process,” Choquette said. “Some of the inspectors have also recommended smaller changes we can make that are not costly to tighten building up, and keep the humidity on the outside.”
The mold problem began with a lightning strike earlier this year that damaged the air conditioning unit on top of the building, said Ward 5 Councilor Anne Beauregard, who also works in the library’s gift shop and sits on the executive board for a foundation that supports the facility financially. The lightning strike fried some of parts to the air conditioning and the system could no longer run on full blast.
Then in August, the air conditioning unit was removed from the roof so the parts could be replaced, which took three days.
During those three days, it became very humid within the building, providing the perfect conditions for the black mold growth, Beauregard said. Choquette said the situation made the library into an “incubator” for mold growth.
“Apparently, they found the mold on the counters,” Beauregard said. “They had to clean it off the books and anything they found it on, primarily downstairs.”
The most common health concerns about indoor mold growth include hay fever-like allergic symptoms. But mold exposure has also been tied to upper respiratory tract symptoms, including coughing and wheezing, along with asthma symptoms and hypersensitivity pneumonitis in individuals who are susceptible. In addition, the Institute of Medicine found limited evidence linking indoor mold exposure to respiratory illness in healthy children.
Choquette said the work for a full remediation of the black mold from all the air ducts throughout the building will need to go out to bid in a process that will take about “three weeks or so.” Choquette said that one company told him informally that the duct-cleaning work would likely cost around $60,000.
“We do have money in the city budget, which should be able to handle most of that expense, and what we don’t have in city budget we can use our state aid to cover the rest of it,” Choquette said. “I think we have sufficient funding to be able to pay for it.”
Choquette said the library tried to get the repairs done to the air conditioning unit in the spring, but that the repair project “dragged” into the hot summer due to a long wait for parts to connect a new compressor, in spite of attempts to get it done earlier.
“We’re on top of it, that’s the important thing,” said Larry Siskind, a library trustee. “That’s the kind of problem that just gets worse and worse and worse, and then it becomes dangerous.”