August 9, 2020

Breaking the Mold

As the College moves to raze the infamous Metzger Student Apartments, a project abandoned nearly two years ago after it was discovered the structures were damaged by water and mold growth, concerns have been raised over air quality with the potential for mold spores being released as the buildings continue to come down.

Demolition services are being provided by Schultz Enterprises, a King of Prussia, Pa.-based firm. According to the bid for Schultz’s services, approved by the College for $650,000 on Jan. 2, the company must provide mold remediation services before demolition can begin. This service of eliminating the mold was subcontracted to Innovative Decon Solutions (IDS) from Tampa, Fla.

“They were a name who was recommended that could do this fogging,” Francis “Shorty” Schultz, owner of Schultz Enterprises said in a telephone interview. “Fogging” refers to the method used by IDS to kill the mold. According to the IDS Web site, the company uses a “patented technology developed for the United States Department of Energy” that neutralizes live mold and the spores that remain even after mold is dead.

According to Bill Simms, the remediation method the company uses was developed to counteract chemical and biological weapons such as anthrax and its spores.

“It doesn’t make (spores) go away, but it’s no longer capable of reproducing,” Simms said. “The good thing about the dead mold spores is that they’re not going to drift somewhere else and start growing again.”

“My specs say I’m supposed to spray for mold, but (the College) wanted to do fogging, which gets into all the cracks. There are only a few companies that can do this,” Schultz added, noting that IDS crews were on site from Jan. 10-15.

In addition to mold remediation services, Langan Engineering and Environmental Services, an Elmwood Park, N.J.-based company, was contracted by the College to assess the mold damage in the buildings in its “Microbial Investigation Report” and to provide air quality monitoring stations around the construction site.

“The specs call for two air monitoring stations – we’re providing five,” Bill Rudeau, director of construction for the College’s office of Campus Construction, said.

“Langan Engineering … is collecting air samples periodically throughout the day during demolition activities,” Matt Golden, director of Communications and Media Relations for the office of Public Affairs, said. “The test samples have not indicated any mold migration problems.”

Nonetheless, some Ewing residents who live near the construction site are wondering if the College’s mold remediation is as thorough as claimed.

Ewing resident Bob Wittik, whose property extends from Pennington Road to Metzger Drive and is sandwiched directly between buildings one and two of the apartment complex, said that noticeable mold growth has taken place on his house since the project was abandoned in 2004.

“You can see the mold,” Wittik said.

“We all live around here and the value of our property will be greatly reduced because we’re going to have to tell people there was a mold problem,” Jack Thomson, another Ewing resident who lives close to the construction site, said.

Despite assurances to the Wittik family from the College’s office of Public Affairs, the community has been left to wonder if any authority has any jurisdiction over the project to ensure that air quality standards are being adhered to.

According to Golden, the state’s Department of Community Affairs is responsible for overseeing the project.

“Community Affairs is responsible for all public buildings projects, so they are obviously in the loop on what’s going on. They have been involved in the whole ordeal,” Golden said. He did, however, concede: “They don’t have anyone on site on a daily basis.”

According to Golden, Ralph Ferguson of the Department of Community Affairs is responsible for overseeing the project, although he could not be reached.

The apparent lack of state supervision has led Wittik to contact the offices of Senator Shirley Turner (D), who has been contacting various agencies to see if there are any state or federal guidelines related to mold remediation.

“It seems as if this is a relatively new issue,” Turner said, adding that “there are no remediation or testing protocols.”

Turner did say that the situation at the College had inspired her to sign on and help push through the pending Toxic Mold Protection Act, submitted to the state legislature in 2004.

Wittik and Thomson have spent the last few weeks trying to gain assurance from the College that there is no threat to their health or property from airborne mold. Information, however, has been hard to come by.

“We haven’t always been impressed with the forthrightness of the College,” Wittik said.

In a Jan. 11 meeting with College officials and representatives from its contracted construction management firm, Turner Construction Company, as well as a representative from Langan, Wittik requested a copy of the “Microbial Investigation Report” to submit his request in writing.

After submitting a written request to the College on Jan. 16, Wittik was informed on Jan. 24 that he had to request the documents via the Attorney General’s office through the state’s Open Public Records Act.

The Signal has also submitted a request for the document, but it had not yet been made available at press time.

“It was bad enough for (the College) to sue the contractors,” Thomson said. “It was bad enough to tear down millions of dollars worth of buildings, but it’s not bad enough to tell the neighbors what they could be breathing.”

A number of the College’s Transfer House residence halls are adjacent to the construction. Students there are also worried about the potential health effects from airborne contaminants.

“I wasn’t worried about it until I saw it today,” Njideka Emenuga, senior biology major and Transfer House resident, said when a Signal reporter visited her house on Friday. “A lot of dust particles were going into the air.”

In the end, Wittik said he only wanted answers. “I haven’t leveled any charges,” he said. “I just asked questions. It seems like this is a hurry-up-and-get-this-done thing now.”

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