In the past few months there have been a few changes to the installation like reconstruction of buildings and roads. But one of the changes came in the form of an unwanted visitor--mold which was attributed to the increased humidity the area experienced during the summer months.
Pat Walsh, the director of Fort Knox's Directorate of Public Works, said every year the post encounters some mold in its buildings.
"This year it really skyrocketed (and) part of the reason is the weather we experienced this year," explained Walsh. "We've had historically high relative humidity and that exacerbates our problems in buildings. "When you have high humidity ... and when that moisture that lays in the air hits cool surfaces in a building it will start condensing out. That's why we've had more problems this year."
Walsh added that having this problem identified the installation's weaknesses because it highlighted possible problems with air conditioning systems in buildings or a problem with the building envelope, which means outside air is getting inside the building through walls or windows.
He pointed out there have been about 60 mold evaluations in different on-post buildings and about half of those have been remediated. DPW is also in the process of remediating the rest of those issues.
"It can be as small as one room or could be multiple rooms, but a lot are isolated to a small area," he said. "This caused us to clean the mold up. We are going to find weakness(es) in the building. "We've had up to 40 contractors at one time working mold remediation issues for us. The reason for that large number of people is we treat every mold call as a life, health and safety issue. It may or may not be but we treat it that way. We respond to multiple calls and we have to bring more contract personnel to address the issue."
Walsh noted that they haven't run into any serious problems but they have vacated some rooms. The mold that's being found is the type that affects those who are allergy sensitive. There haven't been any issues with mold that causes serious health problems.
In the last month Walsh said DPW has ordered about $1 million in projects to correct HVAC and building envelope problems which is a sign that this problem is being taken seriously. He said money is being spent now to decrease any issues in the future.
"We are very aggressive in responding, remediating the mold and fixing the problem that's causing the mold," he said.
Another proactive way of fighting mold is through the warm barracks team which routinely inspects vacant barracks. Walsh and his team want to catch any issues before they become a problem. For example, if there is a barracks that's vacant during the winter months and it encounters a problem that's not corrected for several months that might create a larger problem. The team inspects barracks every couple of weeks to ensure larger problems don't generate from smaller ones.
Walsh pointed out that the U.S. Army Cadet Command's chief of staff was the former garrison commander at Fort Stewart, Georgia, and he explained Fort Stewart's detailed mold procedures which are going to assist Fort Knox in developing new mold standard operating procedures.
On-post workers sometimes cause mold issues because anytime the air conditioning system is circumvented that causes problems. For example, if there is a cool summer morning an individual may open their office window because he or she thinks that helps with cooling off the room, but Walsh said doing that brings in moisture and that will hit something like a cloth chair and condense. After several days mold grows.
"People don't realize (this) because they think, 'I'm …bringing in this cool air and my air conditioning system doesn't have to cool the air,'" explained Walsh. "The air conditioning system controls the moisture, brings in outside air and treats that air (so) we don't induce a lot of moisture in the environment. When you open your window you are allowing a lot of moisture in the building that wouldn't be there otherwise."
Walsh pointed out that the SOP will explain that doing things as simple as opening windows is harmful to a work environment.
Another way DPW has combated this issue is by hiring a contractor who is embedded within the organization whose purpose is conducting mold, asbestos and lead investigations. This has been a quick response to mold complaints.
Stephanie Rausch, an industrial hygienist with Ireland Army Health Clinic's Preventive Medicine, said Fort Knox has a lot of older buildings and there has been some reconstruction to those structures. This has caused things to become unbalanced like moisture to areas that causes mold to grow. Mold is usually green or blackish in color and sometimes it can be white or grayish which depends on where it's growing, she said.
"There's not a whole lot you can do to prevent that," explained Rausch. "It's just a matter of watching, and as soon as you see something growing ... take a paper towel with a little bit of bleach and wipe it up. We recommend a 10 to one bleach solution. For every 10 cups of water you use one cup of bleach, mix together and wear rubber gloves."
She added that conditions in the building depends on growth of the mold such has how much air flow is in the office, humidity, location of moisture and a possible unbalanced ventilation system which may be caused by a leak.
Although calls about mold are taken seriously, Rausch said some of them have actually been due to dust because it can have the same appearance as mold.
She added that the most harmful mold is black mold, which is actually very rare on post. This is the most harmful to those who are allergic to mold and can cause respiratory issues like runny nose, burning eyes and coughing. If exposed for a long period of time a person can have spores grow on their lungs. If they are allergic Rausch said that can cause anaphylactic issues.
The SOP DPW is working on should be complete by next spring.
Walsh said during winter months mold isn't normally a problem because of the dry air. If there is a problem it's an isolated issue.
To help mitigate mold issues everyone should report any HVAC or air conditioning issues, weather stripping problems or doors that don't close properly.
Even though DPW has encountered an unusually high number of mold issues this summer, Walsh said the problems have exposed weaknesses.
"The weather hurt us this year (but) helped us for next year," he said. "(We) will be more diligent next spring … have (a) process to follow so we can be ahead of the game."
If there is an issue or concern about mold, call DPW at (502) 624-1171 or environmental at (502) 624-5639.
"All mold is bad mold and if you see (it) don't worry about what kind it is, report it so we can get rid of it," said Rausch.