LCHD air quality report shows safe mold numbers

BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
PCC EDITOR

FORT MADISON – An air quality investigation conducted at the request of the Lee County Board of Supervisors and Lee County Health Department Director Julie Schilling was released Monday and shows no problem areas, according to EMC Insurance of Des Moines, the county’s property insurance company.

The LCHD moved from the location in April under an air quality concern at the department’s former location at 2218 Avenue H. The department has been housed at the North Lee County Office building since the end of April. No one from the LCHD or the county has elaborated on what the concern was until the report was issued Monday.

The Pen City Current issued a Freedom of Information Act request to the Lee County Attorney’s office on June 7. Lee County Attorney Clinton Boddicker and Asst. County Attorney Ross Braden had previously indicated the report would be kept confidential under Chapter 22 of the Iowa code as well as possible litigation.

The report is a summary of a mold investigation conducted on April 24. The report has several redactions but indicates the investigation was done at the request of Lee County Auditor Denise Fraise and Lee County Health Department Director Julie Schilling. The report was completed on May 3.

SCHILLING

EMC uses a benchmark of 900 spores per cubic meter for indoor spore concentration.  However, no outdoor concentration benchmark was indicated. EMC also uses indoor air quality benchmarks, including temperature ranges from 68 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit with humidity under 50%. During the investigation, the temperature was 66 degrees in the sampled areas and the humidity was 48%, all within guidelines.

According to the report, mold spore samples were collected in areas of the lower level’s east side, including the waiting room, office area, small storage room, as well as an outdoor sample for comparison purposes.

With the exception of an outdoor Basidiospores concentration of 910, attributable to rainfall prior to the investigation, all other samples were well below the 900 benchmark with the highest indoor concentration being a 270 spores/cubic meter of penicillium.

“Our concern was that we didn’t know what those numbers were when we were told to leave the building,” Schilling said.

Schilling has said the investigation was launched out of concern for the safety of the employees and staff of LCHD. The Health Department inked a 3-year deal with the Iowa Department of Corrections late last week to lease the 4-story former John Bennett Administration building at $7,000/month. Their current lease was $5,400/month but didn’t include utilities or maintenance, which the DOC agreement does. When asked if the LCHD had considered moving back into the former location, Schilling said the department would not be making any additional comments on the issue.

“Now we are moving into the John Bennett Unit. We had been looking for a long time for a new building to move into so that’s where we’re going.”

Lee County Auditor Denise Fraise said she contacted the insurance company on direction from the Lee County Board of Supervisors. She also said there was no cost to the county for the investigation as it was a covered policy investigation.

The LCHD had been leasing space in the building currently occupied by The Kensington, a senior assisted living center in Fort Madison. The Kensington is owned by AgeMark, headquartered in California,  a company that owns senior assisted communities across the United States.

Rachel Benda, the Director at The Kensington, said AgeMark is looking at the request from Lee County to settle the current lease agreement. As is stands, the LCHD is looking at paying rent to both IDOC and Agemark for six months until the current lease with AgeMark expires due to notification of the move by LCHD.

The Kensington also had Klingner and Associates of Burlington review the report. In a letter to The Kensington, Klingner agreed the investigation was done properly and the results were indicative of a normal indoor air environment.

“I did receive the letter from Ross Braden about a settlement for breaking the lease and have also seen the mold investigation report from EMC Insurance. I’ve reviewed both with Marty Hug, COO of our management company, Agemark. With so many factors to consider, we may also seek legal counsel,” said Kensington Director Rachel Benda in a statement Friday.

“Once the summary report from EMC Insurance is released, you’ll see that Lee County Health Department’s assertion that it was “forced” to move because of an air quality issue is unsubstantiated. For the past 30 years, The Kensington and Lee County Health Department maintained an excellent landlord/tenant relationship. Despite the circumstances surrounding the current situation, integrity and professionalism are two of our corporate values and we promise to do what is right for everyone concerned.”

In an email Monday, Benda said AgeMark and The Kensington wished the department the best going forward.

“We wish that the Lee County Health Department wouldn’t have vacated because we don’t think they needed to.  However we wish them well in their new place of business.”

 

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About Chuck Vandenberg 2514 Articles
Pen City Current and pencitycurrent.com are products of Market Street Publishing, LLC, a multi-platform media company delivering hyper-local news, sports and advertising information to Fort Madison, IA and surrounding communities.

5 Comments

  1. Nice bit of reporting, Chuck. The entire episode of why there was a need for an air quality test that ultimately meant the evacuation of LCHD personnel prior to results being established AND nothing even mentioned to the remaining staff and residents of the Kensington of a possible health issue bad enough to cause evacuation, has a certain odor to it. A person prone to paranoid thinking might imagine LCHD’s timing and exodus surrounded by secrecy of the entire episode might have had something to do with an upcoming vote by Lee County citizens deciding whether to fork over the money for a new building.

    But of course that would be a person prone to paranoid thinking—!

    Thanks for sticking to your guns on this,

    Don

  2. This is an excellent article that is fact based showing both sides of the issue and response from both parties. Kudos to Pen City for excellent reporting on a very conflicting and hot topic.

  3. The fact that it took nearly a year for a request by the Lee County Health Department for an air quality check of just a section of the Kensington they were leasing, an otherwise excellent and busy assisted-living seniors multi-story complex, is in itself curious. The fact that LCHD never said anything to the management of the Kensington at the time about reasons for calling for an air quality check, is mystifying. Questions come to my mind:

    —What prompted the call for an air quality check in the first place, and especially on only one section of this large building complex? And what major red flag caused LCHD to remove its staff from the building? If there truly was major health issues right alongside a very busy and highly populated senior’s living center, why wasn’t Kensington management given this data?

    —Barring a full explanation as to why the air quality concern was raised, would one be safe in assuming that the LCHD is going to call for the same investigation into the new rental space in the Bennett Administration building at the old Iowa Department of Corrections?

    Frankly the entire process lacks clarity and for a time placed a cloud of uncertainty for those of us who had loved ones staying at the Kensington’s excellent senior’s living area. If there was indeed air quality issues, everyone living and working there should have been made aware of this. The fact that the LCHD, as well as the Lee County Attorney’s office and the Lee County Auditor still won’t explain what happened here tells me they simply want the story to go away—for whatever reasons. Time has a way of causing this to happen, in most instances.

    I have some ideas on that subject, but I try hard to keep my paranoia under wraps. But the Kensington deserves to have some answers even if we cannot.

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