For three years, some employees at the University College of the Cayman Islands have been complaining about health problems they believe are workplace related. But the source of what may be causing such symptoms as skin and respiratory irritations remains a mystery.
UCCI President Roy Bodden said he’s convinced there is a mold-based problem in some of the buildings on the college campus. So far, the source of any such irritant has been elusive.
“There is something seriously wrong,” Mr. Bodden recently told the school’s board of governors. A study by the Department of Environmental Health presented at the board’s May 30 meeting did find the presence of mold in a storage room that does not see a lot of human traffic.
Mr. Bodden admitted frustration with the findings.
“There’s bound to be other sources,” he said, “but we have not found it.” Efforts by the Cayman Compass to speak with staff and faculty who have reported physical symptoms were unsuccessful. One person named in the report declined comment.
Mr. Bodden said he has seen evidence to bolster his belief there is an environmental problem.
“Staff members have shared medical reports where doctors have identified mold and the type of mold,” he said. “I notice I have a lot of phlegm on my chest. I don’t have the acute symptoms that other people have.”
The Department of Environmental Health report references five employees with symptoms ranging from swollen eyes and red skin, to a persistent cough and nasal irritation. Air samples taken in these areas showed no elevated counts of mold spores – in fact, levels in some areas were lower than the outside air. But the authors noted the report should be seen as a snapshot in time and not a comprehensive look at overall conditions.
Mr. Bodden said the report is just the latest step in trying to address the problem. Over the past two years, he said, there have been repeated efforts to clean the ventilation systems of suspected mold. The process has been a struggle.
“We had one company say, ‘Don’t call us back,’” Mr. Bodden said. “These were people that were cleaning the ducts. They said, ‘You need to identify the source. Until you do, it doesn’t make sense for us to keep cleaning the ducts.’” Board of Governors Chairman Anthony Ritch said he believes there is a serious problem.
“We do have some mold issues and we have some people complaining and we have to be concerned,” Mr. Ritch said.
During May’s board meeting, he said he had no reason to question the findings of the Department of Environmental Health investigators, but wondered whether there was more to look at.
“Is there something else?” he asked. “Have they missed something?”
Apart from finding higher than recommended levels of carbon dioxide in the library, career office and office of hospitality – which the inspectors attributed to a high volume of human traffic – and lower than recommended room temperatures, the report found only the one storage room to be a problem. The mold there covered a portion of a single ceiling tile. The roof over the storage room has a leak, Mr. Bodden said.
“Other parameters generally used as indicators for indoor air quality and for the comfort of occupants were found to be satisfactory,” the report said.
Mr. Bodden said he believes the condition of the school’s buildings is a probable factor.
“From the time I came here, I highlighted concerns I had with deteriorating and dilapidated buildings,” he said. “I’m led to believe that is part of the problem.”
Much of the campus was damaged during Hurricane Ivan in 2004, Mr. Bodden said. Repairs on the structures were not overseen properly, he added, and he thinks a good portion of that work was substandard, resulting in buildings that have had persistent problems with water leakage, creating a potential breeding ground for mold. Eventually, he said, the campus should be rebuilt.
“I’m disappointed there’s been no alternate site [proposed],” he said, noting that he is retiring this year. “It’s one of the disappointments I’m leaving with. I detailed this year after year and nothing has been done.”
He said further work needs to be done on the mold issue, but feels local sources have been tapped out.
“Maybe we have to get someone [from] off island,” Mr. Bodden said. “We should get a specialist firm. I think it’s worth it.”