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Extent of college mould still unknown

Yukon College's landlord doesn't know how much black mould is in the building's walls, but an investigation will get underway soon.

Yukon College’s landlord doesn’t know how much black mould is in the building’s walls, but an investigation will get underway soon.

The Department of Highways and Public Works, which owns the college’s Ayamdigut campus building, is hiring a mold cleanup specialist to find out how extensive the black mould contamination is and to help develop a cleanup plan, said Kendra Black, a spokeswoman for the department. The request for proposals is out this week, she said, and work should begin shortly thereafter.

Black mould was discovered inside a staff lounge wall earlier this month when college maintenance staff were cleaning up damage from water that had leaked through the roof of the 25-year-old building.

“We were advised that there were a number of leaks in the building,” said Kurt Dieckmann, the director of the Yukon Workers Compensation Health and Safety Board. “Because of those leaks, somebody punched a hole in a wall, and when they looked in they found mold, so they called us.”

Dieckmann spoke at the college on Tuesday, addressing about 25 staff who were concerned about the mould issue and the college’s handling of it.

The WCB ordered the wall resealed and the room closed. Air samples were collected to check the air quality, which did show the presence of mold spores.

“We found aspergillus, penicillium, and stachybotrys but there’s no one mould that’s any worse than any other mould. The people that are most at risk are those with immune deficiencies, people who have allergies or respiratory tract issues, and they need to be made aware, moved and accommodated,” Dieckmann said.

Even with the airborne mould spores, the building is still fit for use, said Dieckmann.

“The reality is that we live in an environment where there is mould, and we deal with it all the time.”

Dieckmann compared the impacts of mould spores to that of yellow pollen, which collects heavily in the spring and causes respiratory and allergy issues for many people.

“How many people are affected by that? I know I am. Not everyone is affected, but some are, and it’s the same with mould. It’s a naturally occurring organic substance that lives in our environment all the time,” he said.

But that didn’t satisfy some of the staff.

One woman asked about the long-term health affects of mould exposure. Dieckmann said that is difficult to quantify because mould affects people so variously.

The World Health Organization guidelines on dampness and mould show that there is likely an association between mould spores and worsening health outcomes, but there is no direct proof of mould’s impacts.

Other people at the meeting were upset with how the college handled informing staff and students.

“How come the college wasn’t up front about the type of mould? We heard there was leaking, but then the papers reported it as black mould, so which is it?” asked one man at the meeting.

Another staff member asked how extensive the mould contamination is. Dieckmann explained that is still being determined, but that ultimately it doesn’t matter.

Because the effects of mould spores can vary so widely, there is no determined safe exposure limit, Dieckmann said.

“It doesn’t matter how much mould there is. We say if you find it, remove it. End of story,” he said.

“We don’t know if there was mould in other areas where there were leaks. What we do know is that there’s no point in doing remediation until the leaking is fixed,” Dieckmann said.

That could take more than a little time. The college’s roof has been leaking for years. It tends to be worse in the spring, when a winter’s worth of snow and ice build up starts to melt.

Staff jokingly refer to it as the “annual flood.”

The unseasonably warm weather in recent weeks has caused the worst leaking in years, and fixing it could be a “massive” job, according to the college’s facility’s manager, Randy Spinks.

Right now the plan is still being formulated, Spinks said, but the most likely outcome is that the walls will be left sealed up until Highways and Public Works can begin working on repairing the leaky roof sometime in May.

“We want to get through the school year with as little disruption as possible, prior to May. Then we’ll have to start on a massive building renovation of the north side,” Spinks said.

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