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Employees concerned over mold at Hilo wastewater plant

HILO » An administrative building at a Hilo wastewater treatment plant has been mostly vacated after mold was found in its ceilings and walls.

Hawaii County officials were alerted to the problem a few months ago when work was being done on the building’s leaky roof. Now, crews are working to remove the mold.

Four wastewater employees have filed reports over concerns the mold is causing respiratory and other health issues. One worker told the Hawaii Tribune-Herald he filed a complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Department of Environmental Management Director Bobby Jean Leithead Todd said the employees’ reports will be investigated. She also said the department is working to address the concerns outlined in a May 4 report by the company hired to conduct a mold study of the building.

Compliance Solution LLC said in its report that mold was found on a bookshelf, on blueprints and behind bulletin boards in drywall and drop ceiling tiles. Water stains were found “all over the ceiling and air ducts,” and window air conditioners “appeared to be very dusty,” the document states.

Many of the employees working at the plant spend most of their time outside or at other locations, Leithead Todd said. As a precaution, the department has offered respirators to workers who still need to use the building while the ceilings and walls get replaced.

Leithead Todd said the 26-year-old building only recently underwent a mold study because the focus has been on dealing with the leaks.

“My main concern was the fact I had buckets catching water, and I was mainly concerned about people slipping and falling and getting hurt that way,” she said.

Dora Beck, wastewater division chief, said the building had minor leaks starting in 2008. Attempts were made to patch holes, but the problem worsened in 2013, when buckets had to be used to collect water.

Leithead Todd said the county takes the issues seriously, but getting projects funded and contracts awarded for the repairs is “not a process that is quick.”

“We’re going to try to get it done very soon,” she said.

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