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Sunday, December 21, 2014

High mold levels cause problems at McReynolds Hall

Campus Facilities and MU Health and Safety are working to solve the situation.

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An air purifier sits in a basement office last week in McReynolds Hall. MU has placed the purifiers in each office on the lowest level of the hall after complaints of fouls smells and mold growth.

Sam Gause/Senior Staff Photographer

MU Environmental Health and Safety visited McReynolds Hall this week after faculty members began experiencing health troubles due to spending time in their offices.

EHS determined these problems were caused by large amounts of mold and standing water discovered around the east half of McReynolds Hall. English professor Devoney Looser said she discovered a wet carpet and evidence of mice in her basement-level office upon her return for the academic year. She said these were mild annoyances compared to the mold.

"I don't think anybody was expecting a palace when we moved here but it was worse than we anticipated," Looser said.

Looser said she had no history of allergies when she began experiencing lung inflammation and shortness of breath after returning to her office. Looser said she has heard from several other faculty members experiencing similar problems. Many professors have begun sharing offices with colleagues to escape the mold, including Looser, who has moved in with professor Ellie Ragland on the third floor.

The English Department Chairwoman Patricia Okker suggested faculty may limit the amount of time spent in their offices, according to English professor Martha Townsend, who also has a basement office. Townsend has not had direct contact with mold but has found all kinds of "creepy crawly things" throughout her office.

"I never knew whether a spider might crawl out from a drawer or a stack of papers," Townsend said. "It was distracting and discomforting."

Townsend said she has stood on top of her desk to kill the various bugs in her office. She has since reported the problem and received assistance from pest control. Similarly, Looser said she has found mouse droppings and torn up food wrappers in her desk drawers, suggesting that mice were making prominent use of her office.

"If there is any fault here, it is that lower-level people did not listen and act earlier to solve the problem," Townsend said. "People in general should take more responsibility and initiative when problems arise."

EHS is working with Campus Facilities to solve the problem. Campus Facilities spokeswoman Karlan Seville said the source of the leak has been located and repair work is scheduled for this week. Also, dehumidifiers have been placed around the East end of the building to reduce humidity.

Campus Facilities will continue cleaning offices and carrying out mold abatement until the hall is clean again. MU has contacted an outside contractor to clean all surfaces and personal items affected.

"We don't know how long the response will take but we will keep at it until the cleanup is complete," EHS Director Peter Ashbrook said.

In the meantime, faculty members have been directed to be careful with library books. Ellis Library is assisting in cleaning the books before they are re-shelved to prevent the spread of mold in the library. Instructors are also adjusting their schedules to cope with the situation.

"I've had to keep in contact with students about my current location and have even been meeting with some in the Bookmark Café," Looser said.

There have been few serious repercussions resulting from the influx of mold.

"For most people, the only health problems, if any, will be allergy-like symptoms," Ashbrook said.

Townsend said Tate Hall has been on the list for renovation since she started working at MU 20 years ago and putting up with spiders for a couple of years is not a problem.

"Right now, MU is facing many bigger problems," Looser said. "Compared to budget cuts of up to 25 percent, mold and mouse droppings are pretty insignificant. They are annoying, but not a big setback."

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