Mold ended business, owner says
When Robert Cordova starting having sinus problems a few years ago, he figured it might have been due to air pollution following Glenwood Springs’ Coal Seam Fire of 2002.When he watched workers wearing protective suits and masks enter an adjacent business recently, he learned that another culprit might be to blame.Cordova, owner of Automotive Services south of Glenwood Springs, said mold is causing illnesses at a commercial building where he leases space in the Red Canyon area of Highway 82. It’s also helping put an end to his 22-year business, after a mold-related dispute with the building owner resulted in him being told that he is being evicted.The experience has been enlightening for Cordova, who has come to learn that no regulations are in place to protect people who believe their health has been affected by mold.”We could be sick or dying over here. We could have asthma or complications but no one’s looking at it,” he said.Jim Rada, Garfield County’s environmental health manager, confirmed that governments from the local to federal government don’t regulate mold outbreaks, although they will provide information to occupants and property owners about how to respond to the problem.Mold spores are everywhere, but can become concentrated in buildings, Rada said. The lack of regulation stems in part from the fact that some people are far more susceptible to becoming sick from breathing in the spores than are others.”It’s really because of the differences between people, it’s difficult to call it a health hazard for everyone,” Rada said.Cordova agreed that even the four people who work in his business have varied in their reactions. One was fine until after the building owner used bleach to try to treat the mold, Cordova said.
However, he said employees in some other businesses in the building where he works also have gotten sick. Several of the businesses contacted for this story did not comment.Cordova said most of those affected have had allergy-type symptoms such as runny noses, but some get secondary effects such as rashes and sores on their skins and burning in their eyes.Gregory Webb, who runs Dowling’s Restoration & Cleaning, based in Avon, does mold cleanup work. He said some molds can have toxic effects on the nervous system. Normally mold is an allergen, however. But people who regularly are breathing in mold spores begin to lose their resistance, resulting in heightened sensitivity, he said.Cordova now dons a respirator and goggles before entering a sealed-off part of his business that he says has the biggest mold problem.Colorado’s Department of Public Health and Environment discusses mold as a health threat on its Web site and suggests remediation measures. But Bruce Wilson, interim deputy director of the Tri-County Health Department, which serves Adams, Douglas and Arapahoe counties on the Front Range, said it’s “very open for question” among scientists about whether mold causes health problems.”For the person who is suffering, I’m not going to say it’s not associated with mold. I’m just saying if you look at the science, there’s a lot of ambiguity here,” he said.Agreement is widespread on how to tackle a mold problem, however. A top priority is eliminating moist conditions conducive to the growth of mold. Cordova said the building he rents backs up against a hillside and has drainage problems that have resulted in the back cinder-block wall getting damp during the wetter weather of recent years. He points to areas on the wall where he sees discoloration, fuzzy growth and other evidence of what he believes is mold.The building is owned by Henry T. Willison of Glenwood Springs, who referred questions to Crystal Property Management, which handles its leasing. A spokesperson for that company could not be reached for comment.Rada said Cordova sent him a copy of a report by an environmental engineering group, and he looked into the matter.
“What I was made to believe by the consulting engineers was the building owners were taking necessary actions to eliminate a roof leak and improve some drainage situations,” he said. Owners also wanted to clean up personal property in Cordova’s business “that they felt was really the source of the mold in the space,” Rada said.One concern is carpet in the back of Cordova’s business.However, Cordova was worried about whether Willison was following proper protocol in addressing the mold problem in his business. Rada said he explained to Cordova that there is no regulatory requirement to follow any protocol.Cordova said he was concerned because Willison first had used bleach to try to treat the mold. The smell of the bleach proved irritating to his employees, and Cordova’s reading of literature about mold treatment also led him to believe bleach is ineffective.When Willison showed up unannounced and wanted to tear out the carpet, Cordova refused to let him in. He said the job needed to be done professionally.Cordova’s refusal led to his being notified that he is being evicted, he said.Webb said building owners with mold problems are well-advised to leave mold cleanup to professionals, or follow highly regarded New York City Department of Health guidelines.Wilson of the Tri-County Health Department said landlords can’t be ordered to clean up mold. However, Webb said they still can be subject to lawsuits. Although some level of ignorance by landlords regarding a mold problem is understandable, they must show due diligence in taking care of it once it is identified, and alerting tenants of a problem, he said.
Usually, landlords will hire an industrial hygienist to do air sampling, Webb said. His work begins after a problem is discovered. He said some of the proper remediation procedures include isolating a contaminated area and its contents, vacuuming up mold, sucking out and filtering the air, bagging contaminated items for disposal in a landfill, and decontaminating an area and adjacent areas with antimicrobial products.Cordova said air samples have been taken in his business space and readings in some areas are well above the Environmental Protection Agency’s recommended standards. But because there are no legal standards, air samples may not make sense, Wilson said.Cordova said the company that insures his business property has confirmed there is mold on his walls, but won’t pay for a damages claim he has filed because it believes the liability lies with the building owner. He said his worker’s compensation insurance has been paying for medical bills for him and his employees.Meanwhile, he’s not sure how to proceed with safely removing his property from his building and cleaning it.Cordova said he doesn’t want to point fingers at his landlord or anyone else.”I don’t want to create something that isn’t there, but clearly we have health issues and that’s where we need to focus,” he said. “Maybe the laws will change, maybe we can get it to change, but there’s something here. People are getting ill and it’s too bad that people aren’t recognizing that.”Contact Dennis Webb: 945-8515, ext. email@example.com
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