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Mould report proves risk: critic

Calgary Herald - Thursday, May 29, 2003
By Wendy-Anne Thompson

Residents and workers at Holy Cross Centre are at risk of developing serious health problems, the Alberta Liberal health critic charged Wednesday.

Kevin Taft said test results show unacceptable levels of three types of toxic mould -- stachybotrys, aspergillus and penicillium -- which can cause headaches, fatigue, nausea, respiratory illness and cancer.

Alberta Infrastructure has known about these results for more than a year, Taft said, but "did nothing to protect people's health."

"That's unacceptable," he said.

However, an Alberta Infrastructure official insists there is no health hazard at Holy Cross and that the government has not sat on damning results.

Company officials at Enterprise Universal Inc., which owns the building, also dispute the findings.

The Calgary Health Region is reviewing the results.

On Wednesday, Taft distributed copies of a report conducted in July 2001.

The report revealed high levels of the moulds.

It was conducted shortly after toxic mould was discovered in the former Calgary Court of Appeal building in early 2001. Bio-Chem Consulting Services, headed by University of Calgary scientist Dr. Tang Lee, conducted the research as part of the search for a new building.

Early in the search, Holy Cross was eliminated as a new site. The samples were collected, but not analysed.

Taft, who is a medical doctor, said workers and residents should get a health checkup in light of the findings.

Peter Crickmore, a scientist with the Centre for Environmental Investigations Inc., has read Lee's results and is concerned.

"These are results from 2001, so Lord knows what it is like now. Obviously there has to be another thorough investigation," he said.

"I know if it was my mother in the long-term facility there, I'd be looking to get some test work."

The 1967 wing of the building houses a long-term care centre with about 40 patients, with other health services on the first floor. The other floors are being renovated.

Crickmore said federal guidelines for fungi or mould in air state that any level higher than 50 colony forming units (CFUs) is "cause for concern."

In the report, one fungi is listed as 2,870 CFU/m3. Others are listed as TNTC -- which stands for too numerous to count.

Lee would not comment on the results. He said Alberta Infrastructure advised him to not talk to the media.

Alberta Infrastructure spokesman David Bray said the building is completely safe.

The results, he said, are invalid because the study was abandoned when Holy Cross was eliminated as a new Court of Appeal Site.

"The tests were never finished. There was no report ever done. They didn't even give us the raw results," Bray said.

"We didn't get them in 2001. Even if we did, this is just raw data. They have to be analysed and interpreted. Just looking at (this data) doesn't tell you anything."

Bray said there is no problem with the building.

He said a study commissioned by the building owners revealed "there is nothing wrong with the building."

Enterprise Universal Inc. spokeswoman Louise Girouard said a study conducted by environmental, geotechnical and risk management consultants Jacques Whitford showed "no significant mould concern or problem in the 1967 building."

"We are confident the building is safe and we will work hand-in-hand with the government and other officials to ensure that all concerns are addressed immediately," she said.

Meanwhile, Holy Cross workers are concerned.

For the past six months, Gail Gladney has worked at the Mount Royal College satellite campus, located inside the Holy Cross.

She has experienced no health problems, nor has she heard of anyone who is ill, but she is still worried.

"They brought in all sorts of equipment to test this building. They said it was fine so I didn't really worry. This is a real surprise to me. I knew nothing about this," said Gladney.

"Tomorrow, I'll certainly be firing off an e-mail to ask the lady that deals with the landlord all about this mould."

Carmen Veresh, who has worked for a dentist on the ground floor for six months, has no health effects but has heard of others who are sick.

"A patient -- he's a general contractor -- came in and he had done some work renovating the basement. He said there was mould down there," said Veresh. "I'm going to start asking (my boss) some questions about all this."

The owners are currently facing charges relating to workers exposed to asbestos.

They are scheduled to appear in court in August to face seven counts under the provincial Occupational Health and Safety Act.

with files from Andrew Mills, Calgary Herald

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