Air quality at NJ veterans home is good, but mold abatement work continues, officials say
nj.com June 26, 2023
(Tribune News Service) — Despite apparent signs of widespread mold growth on walls within the New Jersey Veterans Memorial Home at Menlo Park, testing of air samples at state-operated nursing home determined there was “no unusual airborne mold condition in the facility.”
A report by an environmental consultant for the state, newly released by the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, or DMAVA, concluded that the level of airborne mold spores detected inside the facility were “considered low by industry standards.”
The report, however, did not address the appearance of what maintenance workers say is mold growth on interior surfaces.
The predominant spore type detected in the outdoor samples was Cladosporium, which was also the predominant spore type detected indoors, the report said, “suggesting indoor mold conditions are reflective of the background fungal ecology at the site.”
A common mold, Cladosporium can cause allergies and asthma in some people. In very rare cases, it can cause infections, experts say.
About 40% of the indoor air samples taken detected no mold spores.
In a letter sent to staff, residents and their families on Monday, Lisa Kranis, the chief executive officer at Menlo Park said the samples were collected in multiple rooms that were designated for remediation work after signs of mold were discovered behind walls.
“There is no unusual airborne mold condition in the facility,” she said, citing the report by Environmental Design, DMAVA’s environmental consultant. “Please keep in mind that, as per EDI, airborne mold and fungal spores can be found in almost every outdoor and indoor environment, and their presence indoors does not necessarily indicate a problem with air quality.”
Officials earlier this month said they had embarked on a $500,000, months-long remediation project involving 30 rooms at the 312-facility after a whistleblower said he raised red flags and refused to simply paint over the dark discoloration on the walls in the rooms of several residents. They say the problems were uncovered by routine inspections and denied that a worker, who is now under suspension, warned them of the problem.
Two New Jersey state senators who raised concerns about the facility, meanwhile, have announced plans to hold hearings to investigate reports that residents may have been exposed to mold spores.
Sen. Joseph Vitale, D- Middlesex, chairman of the state Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee, and Sen. Joseph Cryan, D- Union, chairman of the Senate Military and Veterans Affairs Committee, say they have been dissatisfied with the answers they have gotten from Adjutant General Lisa Hou.
Vitale on Monday said the report did not change his mind about the need to continue testing and cleaning.
“It’s a delicate population, and (mold) can cause upper respiratory stress,” Vitale said.
“This should be taken more seriously. This is not your average indoor shopping center or office building. They should continue to test the and do a thorough cleaning of the ventilation systems,” Vitale said.
The senator said he has consulted with heating and air conditioning professionals who advised him the vents and “the entire system” ought to be cleaned periodically. When he last spoke to Brig. Gen. Lisa Hou on the subject, he sensed, “they were reluctant to do that.”
Molds can be particular harmful to nursing home residents, many of whom have diminished immune systems and are at far greater risk for harmful airborne substances.
Kranis said ongoing inspections and the work of replacing drywall would continue, while a second contractor was proceeding with abatement work on several rooms within the Menlo Park’s Liberty Wing.
“Our contractors…will advise NJ DMAVA on the safe return of residents or any additional abatement work recommendations,” Kranis wrote. “We also anticipate that further air samples will be tested at the completion of the abatement work as well.”
A DMAVA spokeswoman pointed to an earlier letter from Kranis, in response to air quality following the Canadian forest fires, that also noted that the air at Menlo Park part was “triple and sometimes quadruple filtered.”
Monday’s letter was specific about the tests for airborne mold and did not address the mold that appeared to be growing behind walls and in bathrooms.
Jean Lormine, a former union leader, who identified himself as the whistleblower, said he has been on suspension since alerting his supervisor to the issues and pointed to photos he shared of what looked like mold growth on walls in rooms throughout the facility, which he said demonstrated a significant threat from mold.
“They’re lying about it,” he said. “The mold is still there in the building. They’ve been lying about it since 2018.”
Staff writer Susan K. Livio contributed to this report.
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