Fri | Sep 22, 2017

Sick building hurting UWI

Published:Sunday | March 8, 2015 | 3:00 AMCorey Robinson

A 'sick building' on the Mona campus of the University of the West Indies has left scores of students and staff members with medical issues and the administration facing a multimillion dollar bill to correct the problems.

Several areas inside the building are covered with moulds. This is believed to be the cause of respiratory illnesses, which have affected students and university staff who spend any extended period there.

The Sir Allister McIntyre Building, popularly called the 'Peach Building' on the campus, was built in 2001 to house several departments of the Faculty of Social Sciences, the Department of Sociology, Psychology and Social Work, the Institute of Gender and Development Studies, and the Mona School of Business and Management. It also houses several offices, lecture rooms, and computer labs.

In recent years, however, lecturers have been boycotting their offices, relocating to other buildings on campus, and have staged classes outside the building after complaining of a musty smell inside.

"I can't tell you how long this has been happening; all I can say is that this thing has been going on for years and nobody has done anything about it," said one worker from the Department of Psychology last week.

Staff members of the Department of Psychology, who occupied Block G, one of the hardest hit with the mould outbreak, are among the latest to be relocated from the building. They have been moved to a smaller space in a building opposite the Social Sciences Lecture Theatre (SSLT).

LIVING ON ELIXIR

"Some time after I went to the building, I started feeling sick, but I didn't know what was going on. Then I started feeling nauseated. I was sneezing, coughing, and had rashes and even numbness. I had to be living on elixir" said a UWI official, who asked not to be named.

"Several inspections and reports have been done on the building and have been sent to the administration, and still nothing. They have tried everything to get rid of the mould, but the only solution is to demolish the building completely, and they don't want to do that," added the official.

He said having relocated from the building, his health has improved fully, "and that is proof enough to tell me that it was the mould that was causing it".

Mould is a furry growth of small fungi that occurs in moist warm conditions. In a 2013 operation plan for the building, which involved reports from the Human Resource Management Division, the Occupational and Environmental Safety and Health Unit (OESH), The Estate Management Department, and the Biochemistry Department, the mould situation at the Peach Building was identified as an occupational hazard.

The OESH reported that the moulds can cause, "hay fever-type symptoms, such as sneezing, runny nose, red eyes, and skin rash. Allergic reactions to mould are common. They can be immediate or delayed. Moulds can cause asthma attacks in people with asthma who are allergic to mould. They (moulds) become problematic when the seeds come in contact with moist surfaces and reproduce".

The Human Resource Management Division outlined that examinations done on the building revealed moulds on air conditioning vents, walls, lighting fixtures, signs, computer desks, books, in drawers, and even on staff members' handbags and chairs.

The report did not speak to the number of persons who have fallen ill while occupying the building, but staff members last Tuesday named at least 12 lecturers and staff members who have had to seek medical attention for respiratory illnesses.

In its report, the Human Resource and Management Division outlined a four-step process to eradicate the mould. These included: pre and post mould spores sampling and indoor air-quality testing, the repair and replacement of an inadequate air conditioning systems, and the improvement of ventilation systems and mould abatement.

The entire project was slated to cost some $6 million in 2013, but a senior lecturer last week claimed that it will now cost much more.

"It never had to end up like this if they had done what they had to do from long ago. Now, whatever plans they have must include the removal of walls and partitions," argued the lecturer, who also asked not to be named.

"All of the administrators know about it. They know what is going on. We have raised the concerns with UWI over and over, and nothing. Thank God, we have a new principal and he looks as if he is serious about doing something about it," said the lecturer.

Efforts to get a comment from the administration of the university were unsuccessful last week.