Navy Times: Mold complaints in barracks ignored for months
Aug 7, 2012 -
"This isn’t the first time sailors needed to get a mold problem fixed. In December, Rep. Scott Rigell, R-Va., addressed reports of mold in Navy housing run by contractor Lincoln Military Housing in Norfolk, Va. As of March, representatives from both the contractor and the Navy had visited more than 3,000 homes in the area to make sure problems were fixed."
Mold complaints in barracks ignored for months
Fixes now in high gear, sailors evacuate contaminated barracks
By Jacqueline Klimas - Staff Writer
Posted : Tuesday Aug 7, 2012 17:08:08 EDT
Moldy mattresses, ceiling tiles caked in black fuzz and air vents covered in gray, velvety scum — these were complaints coming from sailors who for months lived in poor living conditions at Lakeside Support Barracks in Pascagoula, Miss.
Sailors who spoke to Navy Times on condition of anonymity say complaints issued through their command went unanswered. As a result, they turned to the media.
Only days after Navy Times asked officials about reports of mold, one wing was evacuated and another started to evacuate. Thirteen sailors living in the barracks received health screenings for potentially moldrelated symptoms.
An early warning sign of mold is visible growth, which can appear cottony, velvety or rough, and can be many different colors, ranging from white to black to green, according to Naval Installations Command. Another sign that there may be mold growth is an earthy or musty smell in the home. If you notice this smell, search those areas for visible mold growth.
HOW TO REPORT IT
The Navy barracks are home to sailors on pre-commissioning crews, who live there temporarily while their ships are completed at the Huntington Ingalls Industries shipyard.
Two sailors assigned to the amphibious transport dock Arlington, which is under construction, contacted Navy Times after living in the barracks for months.
When Navy Times first inquired about the problem July 24, a public affairs officer at Naval Construction Battalion Center, Gulfport, located about 35 miles away, said the sailors’ claims were untrue. Several days later, however, he said officials had inspected rooms in Building B and more than 60 sailors living there had been relocated due to mold. Sailors were moved into either Building A at Lakeside Support Barracks or hotels in town, depending on their orders, he said. These Arlington sailors will stay in their new accommodation until the berthing area of their new ship is built and they can move into it.
On July 27, 13 sailors living in the barracks were evaluated or treated by Naval Branch Health Clinic staff for possible mold exposure, said Gulfport public affairs officer Robert Mims. All had pre-existing conditions making them more susceptible to mold. Four of those sailors had been previously treated by medical staff assigned to Arlington for mold-related symptoms.
Sailors said the housing in Building B was not maintained and in need of serious cleaning and renovation.
“This building really should be condemned while they renovate to get mold out of [the] building, but instead, they’re shuffling us all around and making us stay here,” one sailor said.
Officials found that only certain rooms contained mold, Mims said.
“But we wanted to err on the side of caution and move sailors out of there,” he said.
Building B was constructed in 1963, Mims said.
There were water leaks and leaking pipes in Building B, which contributed to the problem, said Mims, who also blamed “Mississippi humidity,” which he said causes walls and windows to sweat.
It became clear that mold concerns were not limited to that area, however. Air samples were also collected from Building A barracks, and results led to more sailors moving into hotels. Not everyone was evacuated from A, Mims said, but preliminary tests showed sailors with pre-existing conditions such as a compromised immune system or asthma needed to be move out as a precaution.
“We won’t berth [people with those conditions] in Building A due to an abundance of caution,” he said. “We don’t want to take any chances.”
No air samples were taken in Building B because it is already slated for heavy construction.
The Lakeside Barracks complex is in the process of a $25 million renovation project. The first thing fixed was the security gate, while renovations to Building B began July 23. The gate fixes took precedence over the housing renovations because “security is a top priority,” Mims said.
Now that Building B is empty, he said renovations should proceed faster.
A new air chiller has already been placed in Building A, and one will be installed in Building B as part of the renovations, Mims said. It circulates air, brings in fresh air and reduces humidity, making mold growth less likely.
Mims said officials in Pascagoula had received no recent complaints about the mold. The last formal mold complaint was received in November, Mims said, and he thought those problems had been fixed. One sailor, however, said he never received confirmation after filing his complaint and that the mold was both a persistent problem and one “widely known” within the command.
Mims was unable to speak about the sailor’s specific chain of command, but he referenced the reporting procedure in place in the barracks: Sailors should let the front desk manager know about any problems to get them fixed. Those in the chain of command who know about the issue should report the problem to the local barracks manager.
“For this sailor, it didn’t work, but I can’t speak to what he did or didn’t do or what his command did or didn’t do,” Mims said.
The sailor said the building was understaffed, with not enough people to man the front desk, where problems should have been reported. Sailors took on the responsibility to run the front desk themselves, he said.
Mims said the front desk is manned from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. by unaccompanied housing staff. Precomissioning Unit sailors man it from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.
A common side effect of mold is difficulty breathing, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Arlington sailors who spoke to Navy Times said they experienced shortness of breath. It wasn’t clear if mold was to blame, however.
Mims emphasized that officials at the barracks care about the sailors’ quality of life and responded immediately when they discovered the mold was an issue.
“It moved quicker than probably anything I’ve experienced in the military, once we heard that there was even an inkling of a problem,” he said.
This isn’t the first time sailors needed to get a mold problem fixed. In December, Rep. Scott Rigell, R-Va., addressed reports of mold in Navy housing run by contractor Lincoln Military Housing in Norfolk, Va. As of March, representatives from both the contractor and the Navy had visited more than 3,000 homes in the area to make sure problems were fixed.
In addition to the mold problem in Pascagoula, the sailors also complained about water-damaged furniture left from Hurricane Katrina.
Another photo submitted to Navy Times shows a barracks kitchen fire extinguisher which should be re-inspected once a year that had not been serviced since January 2008.