“It is solved, It is fixed” declared the Mayor

Someone forgot to tell the mold

Suspect visible mold growth in the HVAC of the Helotes Fire Department

During the month of June, the City of Helotes Fire Department contacted Argus Environmental Consultants to perform a limited indoor air quality assessment report for the City of Helotes.

The scope of the service included limited visual assessment of the Fire Department building; limited visual assessment of the heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) systems; air sampling for mold content; moister sampling of interior building materials; mold spore analysis by a third-party, Texas DSHS licensed laboratory; air sampling for carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration, carbon monoxide (CO) concentration, dew point, temperature and relative humidity; air sampling for respirable particle concentration.

The inspection found the building was under negative air pressure relative to outside. This negative pressure allows the building to pull outside air into the building and when the outside air contains high mold counts it fills the building with mold filled air.

The HVAC supply diffuser inside the hallway Men’s restroom was rusty and slightly discolored. Visible suspect mold growth was present on the wood supporting shelf and back cabinet panel below the kitchen sink. Moisture content in the wood shelf and panel was 8 percent considered dry.

Visible suspect mold growth was beginning to form around the perimeter of the Kitchen’s HVAC supply diffuser above the island. Moisture content in the sheetrock was 8 percent considered dry.

Visible suspect mold growth was present on the Shower Rooms’ ceiling sheetrock around the supply diffusers. Moisture content in the sheetrock was 8 percent considered dry.

Shower Rooms’ supply diffusers were not sealed to the ceiling sheetrock.

The return flex duct connections were unsealed at the ceiling boxes.

In the Mezzanine Mechanical Room Air Handling Unit 4 the inspection found the supply plenum was badly damaged and contained suspect mold growth on the inside with visible condensation on the bottom of the duct. Visible suspect mold growth was growing on the outside of the air handler. The condensate coil was rusty. Condensation was on top of the air handler. The return plenum was leaking and not sealed properly. Air was leaking through the filter-housing panel.

The fresh air intake was wide open.

The inspection of the Air Handling Unit 6 found the fresh air intake was completely closed. Visible suspect mold growth was present in the supply plenum. Air was leaking into the air handler through the filter-housing panel. A UV light was installed in the supply trunk line above the Hallway between the Exercise Room and Conference Room. The light’s metal housing has been condensating as seen by the drip marks on the duct run directly below.

The Air Handling Unit 2 inspection found the fresh air intake was closed. Heavy debris accumulation was in the return plenum box. Visible suspect mod growth was present on the condensate coil boot. The supply plenum was damaged and soft to the touch. Air was leaking into the air handler through the filter-housing panel.

Inspection of the Air Handling Unit 3 concluded the supply plenum was damaged and felt soft to the touch. The fresh air intake was wide open. Visible suspect mold growth and rusting were present on the inside of the air-handling unit. Air was leaking into the air handler through the filter-housing panel.

The air quality test showed high levels of Cladasporium and Penicillin among other mold spores. The count was elevated because of the high mold count and the negative air pressure at the firehouse entrances.   However due to the mold growth inside the building the inside air quality would continue to deteriorate.

The inspector drew the following conclusions: A regulated mold condition greater than the Texas DSHS minimum exception of 25 contiguous square feet of visible mold growth was not identified. Visible mold growth associated with the HVAC’s systems’ components and on the sheetrock ceiling materials in the Kitchen and Dormitory Showers was likely the result of a series of contributing factors to include: high moisture content environments; uncontrolled and imbalanced fresh air intake into the HVAC systems; leaking HVAC return duct connections in the Attic above the ceiling.

Although the mold growth remains less than the 25 contiguous square feet, if conditions with the HVAC system continue without corrective action, the visible mold growth will continue to get worse over time. Rusty HVAC condensate coil components suggest refrigerant leakage. Dew point temperatures measured higher than the surface temperatures of the HVAC discharge can be directly related to condensation and mold growth. This condition was observed in all four HVAC systems and on the ceiling sheetrock in the Kitchen and Dormitory Showers.

Visible mold growth on the cabinetry below the Kitchen sink was the result of a historical leak or spill.

Elevated HVAC supply respirable particle readings suggest that the HVAC supply ducting requires cleaning and/or the filtration systems are not functioning as designed.

Mayor Tom Schoolcraft maintained throughout his reelection campaign “there was no need to test the HVAC because it was fixed and the problem was solved.”

The Mayor and City Administrator placed the temperature control inside the City Hall offices and prevented the Fire Department staff from adjusting the temperature for over a year. According to information released from the Mayor and the City Administrator this action was taken to ensure the building would be maintained at a constant temperature and prevent the occurrence of mold growth.

As the inspection noted this was a futile and wasted expense and request by the Mayor, as relative humidity plays no part in the mold growth but the actual dew point affects condensation and mold growth.

The City of Helotes has spent over $55,000 at the request of the Mayor and City Administrator to attempt to solve this issue for the last three years. This amount is not a total expenditure, as the City Administrator no longer separated out the cost of maintaining or trying to fix the Fire Departments HVAC from other expenditures in the general fund. The only way to determine a true accounting of all the money spent to date to fix the system is by sitting inside the city offices and reviewing each individual receipt.

The City of Helotes has been employing the Beyer Brothers to provide a monthly inspection of the system and a monthly cleaning/changing air filters for the fire departments HVAC.

The inspection report offered the following recommendations to solve the issue at hand.

Evaluate the HVAC systems by a third-party qualified and licensed mechanical contractor/engineer. Goals of the evaluation should be to specifically address the following balance, condition and regulation of fresh air intake; rusty air handling unit condensate coil components; leaking air filtration panels.

For the HVAC systems remove all four HVAC systems’ fiberboard supply plenums to a point two feet past visible mold growth (no less than 6 linear feet). HEPA vacuum clean and sanitize all three HVAC systems as per the NADCA General Specifications to include: air handlers, interior components and insulation, condensate coils and blowers. Seal all HVAC return flex ducts to their return boxes with typical HVAC mastic/sealant.

Recommendations for the Dormitory Shower Rooms and Kitchen Ceilings include HEPA vacuum clean and sanitize the HVAC supply diffusers and surrounding sheetrock. Seal the HVAC supply frames and attachments to the sheetrock.

The inspector recommended for the Kitchen to remove the contents below the sink. HEPA vacuum clean and sanitize the cabinet shelf and panel below the sink. Remove the shelf and panel and immediately bag. HEPA vacuum the cavity below the shelf and assess exposed sheetrock. Discolored sheetrock should be HEPA vacuumed, removed and immediately bagged. HEPA vacuum all exposed cavities and sanitize all remaining wood framing and cabinet components. The sanitizing solution should be an EPA approved product applied in accordance with the manufacturer’s label instructions.

Our first responders have been living in these conditions now for three years. It is time the Mayor stops claiming they are fixed and the problem is solved. Our community must separate the politics from this problem and focus on creating a solution and the solution should be implemented immediately. Our firefighters place their lives on the line for us each day and they deserve to have their health and well being protected as well.

Even more unforgivable is the fact the City continues to ignore the new police station. According to both fire and police personnel who enter the police station on a daily basis the mold situation is far worse inside the police station because no official action has been taken to combat the mold.

The only action the city exercised in removing the mold growth was Public Works entering the building, painting Kilz on the mold spot and calling the problem solved. It is time for the whitewashing to end.

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