Testing clears the air in Brewster Hall


August 20, 2009
WOLFEBORO — Air testing of basement areas in Brewster Hall, ordered by selectmen at their last meeting on Aug. 5, did find elevated levels of a mold commonly found in older buildings but not the toxic mold that had been feared.

The inspection by Yerhot Environmental Solutions LLC (YES) of Madbury did detect visible signs of mold and "a distinct smell of rodent urine" but no elevated levels of carbon dioxide. The highest airborne concentration of the common molds (Aspergillis and Penicillium, 5,280 counts per square meter) was found in the basement break room. The spore count was less than half as much (2,560 counts) in the basement file storage area, less than 10 percent as much in the basement storage room near the electric panel (427 counts) and only one percent (53 counts) in the first floor cubicles at the top of the stairs. An outside air sample had the same common mold counts as the cubicles.

In addition to five air samples, YES also took four surface samples, of the floor in the basement women's room, the rug in the break room, the wooden stairs and paper found in the trustees office. Only the stair sample showed high levels of the common molds (Aspergillis and Penicillium); the other three samples showed "sparse" amounts of mold.

The YES report identified remediation efforts that should be taken to remove the mold, the least expensive of which called for reducing basement humidity from 65 percent to below 50 percent by using dehumidifiers and ventilating the basement space. The more expensive measures recommended included sealing off the basement, removing "all water damaged and/or mold contaminated porous building materials 2 feet past visible damage, and thoroughly cleaning the space, including sanding of stained areas'; work would be done in disposable clothing by workers, including a breathing apparatus, eye protection and gloves.

The YES report acknowledges "there are no U.S. regulatory standards for either indoor or outdoor levels of mold spores in the air." However, "standard practice is to compare the mold concentrations and the specific types of mold present, with outdoor concentrations at the same location, if possible. If the indoor levels are significantly higher, or if the dominant mold species are significantly different, that indoor environment is considered to have a mold problem that requires attention."

Given this report, selectmen will discuss what to do next at their Aug. 19 meeting, which took place after press time but will be reported here next week.

Prior to the Aug. 5 meeting Town Manager David Owen had ordered that the basement be ventilated in response to staff complaints about mold. Selectman Kristi Ginter had questioned the ventilation out of a concern that the town might be ejecting toxic molds into the outside air. Owen agreed to stop the ventilation and get the air tested, and the board authorized up to $3,500 to get the air tested and to replace the sink and toilet in the first floor bathroom off of the conference room. Previous Town Manager Paul Skowron had had the first-floor plumbing fixtures removed but left the plumbing for them, as well as the ceramic tile.

Selectman Linda Murray had advocated spending all available uncommitted funds in the operating budget to improve staff working conditions in the Brewster Hall town offices, including converting part of the conference room to a staff break room, as well as restoring the bathroom to make it unnecessary for most staff to go to the basement. Selectmen Chair Dave Senecal and Selectmen Marge Webster and Ginter prefer to use most of the funds to prepare a town office proposal for voters to consider next March, though Senecal supported Murray on restoring the bathroom and the board did authorize funds for air testing.

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