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Mold growth has election panelists hunting new digs

by Dale Ellis | November 11, 2019 at 6:40 a.m.

PINE BLUFF -- Excessive moisture in the Jefferson County Election Commission office has resulted in mold contamination, which presents an unacceptable health hazard and puts 150 electronic voting machines at risk, officials say.

According to Commissioner Stuart Soffer, technicians from Aerus in Little Rock tested the air quality in the commission offices in Pine Bluff on Oct. 31, and discovered significant mold contamination.

"They came in with meters and the lady was disbelieving the readings she was getting in the [personal electronic ballot] room," Soffer said at Wednesday night's commission meeting. "So she called me in to look at the readings. The reading in the room was 73,300 particles per cubic foot."

According to the report supplied by Aerus, the measuring equipment used by the technicians measured mold spores 1 micron or less in size, and 5 microns or larger. In addition to the smaller mold spores that measured 73,300 particles per cubic foot, the room also contained 16,800 particles per cubic foot of the larger mold spores.

The report said acceptable levels of mold contamination would be 2,500 particles or less per cubic foot of the smaller spores and 200 particles per cubic foot of the larger spores.

In the meeting area, the equipment measured 51,600 particles per cubic foot of the smaller spores and 10,000 particles of the larger spores. Throughout the building there was evidence of water damage and mold buildup, and an oppressive musty odor permeated the air.

"They found mold in the carpet," Soffer said, "which we have been complaining about. In the heating and air room the readings were unbelievable and there was a pickle bucket in there with water and mold that has been growing because apparently one of the units back there was leaking, and the two air filters were black with mold."

In the media room where commissioners work to prepare elections and to tabulate election results, mold was found growing inside the cabinets, Soffer said.

"The bottom line is that we cannot continue using this building," he said. "We have a liability and if you knowingly expose people to this stuff, you're setting yourself up."

Soffer said Aerus had recommended a dehumidifier for the building at a cost of about $1,500 but he said the problems inside the building were too great considering much of the moisture contamination was coming from a building next door that was leaking into the election commission office.

He said he had looked over the former sheriff's office facility in the county courthouse as an alternative and said it would be good because of the size of the office, its proximity to the county clerk's office, and ramp access to the rear parking lot.

"The only thing I would want removed is one temporary, non-load-bearing wall they have as a partition," Soffer said Wednesday. "We could conduct training at the Reynolds Center, but right now that's the only fix that I can see because we cannot continue -- in fact my advice tonight from a lawyer was to keep the front door open on this room. She was that concerned."

In addition to the health problems presented by mold, a letter prepared for Gerald Robinson, the county judge, regarding the problem also noted that previous high levels of moisture in the building had resulted in 300 iVotronic voting machines being decertified because of corrosion on the motherboards.

Commissioner Ted Davis objected to Soffer calling in an air-quality technician without consulting with the rest of the commission and voted against sending a letter to the county judge on those grounds, but commission Chairman Michael Adam cast the deciding vote to send the letter.

"To take a company's materials and send it over to the judge as opposed to indicating specifically that bids have to be gathered to do this work, I think that's one of the things we have to look at," Davis said.

Adam pointed out that if any decision was made to purchase anything, that decision would be up to the county judge.

"We didn't offer to pay for it and in fact, I think commissioner Soffer said he would have them meet with the county judge," Adam said. "I think that's the appropriate situation because we're not going to buy that."

Contacted on Thursday, Robinson rejected the idea of the election commission moving to the old sheriff's office, saying he already had plans for it.

"If they want to meet in the Quorum Court meeting room, I can allow that," Robinson said. "But I have plans for that room so that's out."

Robinson said he didn't know if there might be another building owned by the county that might be available and suitable for the election commission's needs.

"That's one of the things that I'm going to be looking at," he said.

State Desk on 11/11/2019

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