SPECIAL ASSIGNMENT: Toxic mold in Louisville buildings
Reporter: Jennifer Baileys - Jbaileys@WDRB.com
LOUISVILLE, KY. (WDRB) -- A "toxic" and "hazardous" work environment is how one Louisville Metro worker describes the environment he's been forced to endure for years.
"Mold growing on drywall, there's mold on bricks, there's mold in stairwells and there's also roaches probably two to three inches in length," says a Metro Government worker who wants to remain anonymous.
As horrible as it sounds and as disgusting as it looks, he says the conditions he captured with his camera are even more difficult to work in.
"Allergy-like symptoms, headaches, memory loss, and just a variety of things and it is almost continuous year round," the worker said.
Even worse, he said he has had to suffer for years since around 2007 or 2008. Concerned about the long-term exposure to black mold, he turned to his doctor. Several tests later, it confirmed what he said he already knew.
"A lot of them [tests] came back related to exposure to mold and allergy tests came back exposure to excessive mold," the worker said.
He also claims black mold was found in his blood -- results that also brought a stern health warning: "The doctor said they prefer that I not even work in the buildings, but I have to because this is my job and this is where I work at."
So what's the city doing to clean up the problem? We dug up report after report of black mold problems in several city buildings dating back to the early 90s. They were problems that prompted e-mail warnings instructing workers "not to go back into that office for any reason," referring to the police photo lab inside the building at 810 Barret.
"Recently it looks like they are locking some hallways," the worker said.
One of those areas is on the fifth floor of 810 Barret, where an entire hallway is locked. In that same building we even found mold on the ceiling tiles in a public area.
"I have to worry about this day in and day out because every building I've been put in has mold and every building I go in that's at least a police department building has mold or roaches or asbestos or any of these other kinds of contaminants that can possibly be harmful to my health," he said.
Frustrated, he's joined nine other city workers and filed a class action law suit against Metro Government, Tim Barry, and The Louisville Metro Housing Authority and Ted Pullen with the Department of Public Works. We asked all of them what they're doing to clean up the mold and all three including Mayor Greg Fischer's office had the same response, "Because of the lawsuit involved, we cannot comment". We did uncover some answers after requesting hundreds of documents related to black mold in city buildings. They reveal the city has made some efforts to clean it up.
"It's usually just a band aid because they always tell us their hands are tied because there's no money in the budget to fix things," he said.
The buildings cited in the lawsuit are 768, 810, and 850 Barret and 633 West Jefferson Street. The plaintiffs have requested monetary relief because of "exposure to toxic levels of airborne mold and other contaminates" in and around those office buildings. All of the plaintiffs claim they've suffered serious health problems from the exposure.
Just how toxic is black mold? We asked expert Doctor Paul Schulz, Norton's medical director of infection prevention. "Most of the time with those molds we don't get too concerned with true infections unless somebody is immuno-compromised it's significantly so transplant patients, folks that are receiving chemotherapy," said Schulz.
The doctor says the subject of black mold is a controversial one because no scientific evidence has proven a connection to symptoms such as memory loss and other neurological problems. But he doesn't dismiss potential health problems connected to the fungus.
"One thing to keep in mind about almost all of these molds is that they're also found in the environment so we do get exposed to these things regularly in our environment and just having that in your environment doesn't necessarily mean that it's any different than being outdoors for instance," Doctor Schulz said.
But he said the problem is when the amount found in a building is higher than outside. Our investigation uncovered documentation time and time again where Metro OSHA found higher amounts in city buildings and had to clean it up.
"I've talked to people who used to work with the police department and have retired and they've said that once they've gotten out of that building they feel 100% better," said the unidentified city worker.
Documents also reveal Metro Government has moved some workers to other buildings after mold was discovered. But that's not enough for the workers in this law suit. They would like the entire problem fixed for good.
"It's one thing to have these problems, we understand everyone's budget is limited but it is not acceptable to let the problem continue year after year and give employees the impression that everything is fine when it hasn't been corrected," said George Cochran, Attorney.
Cochran said he's still gathering evidence before evaluating a possible early settlement with the city.
The law suit was filed last fall in Jefferson Circuit Court Division Three, Hon. Mitch Perry.
Copyright 2012 WDRB News. All Rights Reserved.