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ohhbob

Mold issues

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I'm fairly certain my workplace is making me ill.  Last fall we had the roof replaced, and during that time when it rained, it leaked like a sieve.

Now that the weather is getting warmer, I can smell the mustiness as soon as I step inside.  I have a mold allergy and asthma, and after a minute or two I can just feel my lungs closing up.  I spend an hour in the evening coughing and hacking up the pollutants I've inhaled during the day.

I'm an office staff level position with a good amount of seniority with the company, but I only have so much authority.  I've moved myself into a conference room with a different air handler system, but I still feel the effects.  Of course, I've tried alerting the proper people, and it took some effort to get someone to take me seriously, but there is finally going to be an air quality study done.

Assuming there is an issue found, and assuming it'll take some time for remediation, I'm still going to have to deal with this somehow for some amount of time.

I'm just wondering what my rights are?

 

Thanks...

 

Bob

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Right to do what? You don't have a right to insist on testing, get the results of the tests, or dictate a remedy.  If you have a medical condition which rises to the level of a disability (asthma may, allergy which is merely irritating would not) you can request accommodation under the ADA. That may mean wearing a mask, limiting your time in that area of the building, an air filter for your vents, air purifier, etc.

 

I would also be talking to my doctor about taking something for the allergy.

 

The problem with "mold" is that it is present in the air all the time, naturally. Unless there is physical mold present, in which case those items need to be replaced or removed, it is very difficult to fix. There are currently no standards for how much mold is acceptable or safe in an environment, and the concentration can vary greatly over the course of a day based on many factors. This OSHA bulletin might help shed more light on this https://www.osha.gov/dts/shib/shib101003.html

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If the matter isn't addressed by your employer and you can document the problem and that your doctor believes that it is affecting your health, you can contact OSHA.  As to Ellen's comment, she obviously doesn't understand the threat that mold in a enclosed space can pose or appreciate that black mold can form when there is water coming into a building that is not sufficiently dealt with.  They are called "sick buildings."  I've worked in one and seen what it can do to people.  For more information, see https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/indoorairquality/faqs.html

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I can totally appreciate the issues with mold and have experienced them myself living in a house built in 1890 after Sandy. That does not change the employee's right to insist on an inspection or specific remedy. An air quality study is of somewhat limited value as even OSHA does not have standards for acceptable levels of airborne mold or other particulates. Personally, I'd spend the time having someone inspect the "attic" where the roof was repaired to look for visible signs of mold. Whether your employer is willing to do that I don't know but you can ask. Is everyone or anyone else in the building having issues or just you?

 

At a former employer which owned many buildings, many of them quite old, we got a lot of requests for air quality tests. We inspected all. Some contacted OSHA anyway. Only a few were ever inspected, I assume based on the wording of the complaint, and none resulted in any sort of finding, in large part because there is not a single test or standard which indicates the problem. Some things such as carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide levels can be tested and there is a standard for acceptable levels. Not so with mold. You can test what is in the air to some extent, but there isn't a scale you can look to and say if it is over this amount, it is unsafe.

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Thank you all for your comments.  And to elaborate - by "My Rights", I meant what am I able to ask for and expect from my employer by law.  You've answered that, so thanks again.

No I'm not the only one who suffers, but am either the most sensitive, or the most vocal.  Many people have commented to me after I spoke up.

The study has been done, so now we just wait for the results. Now that an issue has been questioned, time will tell on the outcome.

 

Bob

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Ok...here's an update to this post:

 

Since I first posted this, I have had bypass surgery. I was on medical leave for 7 weeks, all the while asking my boss the status of the air quality test.  I was told some mold was found, but also, the general cleanliness and housekeeping of this place is horrendous, so in addition to the mold, there is dust everywhere. I was also reminding him that an ideal time for any remediation efforts of this would be while I was off.

 

Sorry to say, this has snowballed into a corporate black hole.  The building owner now wants his own study done, and we have a corporate Industrial Hygienist coming to take a look at the situation.  Needless to say, the wheels are turning very slowly.  What am I supposed to do in the meantime?

 

During my time away, I was fine, and had no respiratory issues.  Upon my return to work, I noticed the smell immediately, and on the second day, my throat was rough, and I felt my lungs tighten up.  I had a couple coughing fits at work, and these fits are detrimental to my surgical healing.  They've let me move into a temporary working space, but it is not the most ideal and is starting to create some ergonomic issues for me.

 

I feel trapped in a no win situation - what does anyone suggest??

 

Thanks...

 

Bob

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Have you spoken to your doctor about this situation and what might work for you? It might be as simple as an OTC allergy med, or wearing a mask/ having an air purifier/dehumidifier in your office.  Certainly you could dust your space so it is clean. As for mold, it is inevitable some would be detected as it is virtually impossible to eliminate all mold. It is literally everywhere, in all of the air we breathe. There are thousands and thousands of types/species of mold. If you have oxygen and water, you have mold. Finding mold means very little as finding some mold was inevitable. Even then, if it was in an attic, it would be difficult for it to filter down to you. HVAC systems are closed systems. The ducts would not be open to the attic. Unless the water trickled down into the ceiling above you, or you have an open ceiling, it shouldn't be affecting the air quality in your office directly.

 

You can read a bit more here https://www.epa.gov/mold. http://www.cdc.gov/mold/faqs.htm Keep in mind these are guidelines and recommendations, not requirements.

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