OLYMPIA -- Thurston County Commissioners on Monday will be asked to adopt an emergency resolution to enable a quicker response to a mold problem detected in the Thurston County Jail.
The mold was discovered in Post-6 of the jail when repair work was done recently on toilets in the unit. Water from the showers and toilets in the area has leaked underneath walls, causing mold to grow inside. Testing done on the walls and the air last week confirmed the presence of the toxic mold. Thurston County Health Officer Doctor Diana Yu says there is no immediate health threat from the situation. "There is no urgency in this instance except to move out inmates who have chronic lung ailments or who are immune compromised. It is important however, to move out all inmates when repair work is undertaken on the walls, as that process will release mold spores into the air."
Thurston County Corrections Chief Karen Daniels says they are moving immediately to evacuate the 48 or so inmates in Post-6 as a precaution. "Even though we could leave some inmates in the post by sealing off the affected toilet and shower area, it becomes an operational necessity to evacuate the unit. Logistically it's impossible to move that many inmates up and down stairs to another unit for showers or to use the toilet. It would compromise security to move dozens of inmates on a regular basis." The evacuation decision means a difficult process of identifying inmates who may be eligible for incarceration in other jails, those who can be moved to alternative programs like electronic home monitoring and to find minimum-security misdemeanor inmates who might be released early, according to Daniels. "A special group of Jail Administrators, Judges, Pre-trial and Probations Staff, Prosecutors, Defense Attorneys and others is working on identifying inmates who can be moved or released in order to free up the space in Post-6 so repair work on the walls can be expedited."
The cleaning of the mold is a somewhat complicated process according to Central Services Director Jim Wilcox. "We had planned late next week to begin repair of the floor of the jail kitchen which is right above Post-6. There is some indication that mold may be entering the post from leaks in the floor above, but we won't know that until the floor work begins. The good news is that the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system for Post-6 is isolated from the rest of Building Three, so there is no spread of the mold to other areas. "
If commissioners adopt the emergency resolution on Monday, that will allow the suspension of some bidding process rules so a contractor can be hired quickly to work on Post-6, according to Wilcox. "We will have a contractor remove the affected parts of the walls and then get rid of the mold. We must then rebuild the walls and ensure that the moisture that caused the problem in the first place, cannot leak back in again."
The entire process of ridding Post-6 of mold, repairing the walls and rebuilding the kitchen floor, could take as long as six weeks.