DPW, housing work with residents to mitigate mold

By Chuck CannonApril 12, 2023

Col. Sam Smith, Fort Polk garrison commander, briefs members of the Tiger Team before an inspection of the 519th Military Police Battalion barracks. The team checks for mold, mildew and any other issues in the barracks.
Col. Sam Smith, Fort Polk garrison commander, briefs members of the Tiger Team before an inspection of the 519th Military Police Battalion barracks. The team checks for mold, mildew and any other issues in the barracks. (Photo Credit: Chuck Cannon) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT POLK, La. ­— Mold. This four-letter word is cause for consternation among those who have had the misfortune of having to deal with this naturally occurring microscopic fungi that can grow on indoor or outdoor surfaces and live in all environments, climates and seasons.
Mold needs oxygen, moisture and a nutrient source to grow. That makes Louisiana, with its year-long high humidity and abundant rainfall, the perfect breeding ground for mold and the often aesthetic or health problems it can bring.
To assist in the mitigation of mold and mildew issues affecting Fort Polk buildings, barracks and housing areas, the Installation Management Command issued Operations Order 23-007 — Operation Counter Mold. The goal of OPORD 23-007: Reframe how Soldiers, Family members and civilian employees look at mold.
To that end, IMCOM leadership points out mold is a normal part of our environment, and its prevention is the responsibility of every member of the Army community. Learning how to identify mold, taking quick action to clean or report mold once it’s found, and countering it correctly is vital to managing mold effectively.
For Soldiers living in the barracks or those working in government buildings, the most effective way to report the presence of mold is through ArMA — the Army Maintenance Application. Soldiers can register at https://www.armymaintenance.com/arma. Simply take a photo of the suspected mold, login and report it.
“Mold is everywhere in the environment,” said John West, Directorate of Public Works’ Environmental and Natural Resource Management Division acting chief. “How you proactively identify, manage and remediate, that’s where the key is.”
West’s staff in Indoor Air Quality Mold Management relies on occupants of facilities, facility managers and Soldiers who live in barracks to let them know if there is a potential mold problem.
“Inevitably, someone is going to see something they think might be mold and that’s OK,” West said. “Put in the ArMA work order, get us out there and we’ll take a look at it. If it’s mold, we’ll take appropriate action, if not, if it’s mildew, we’ll let you know.”
Dillon Everett, environmental engineer with IAQ, said “Mold Buster” cleaning kits are provided to barracks residents for cleaning small areas that contain mildew — less than 10 square feet. Larger areas the IAQ team will clean.
West said the recent barracks upgrades have addressed many of the mold issues, but in some cases Soldiers will turn thermostats too low, close off air flow or create other issues that can lead to mold if not monitored.
“Our first priority is education,” West said. “Make sure people know what mold is, how it becomes a problem and what to do if it is a problem.”
The IAQ team inspects Fort Polk barracks every six months to check for mold or other issues. In addition to individual rooms, they check hotspots such as electrical rooms and laundry areas.
“Every barracks gets inspected twice a year,” Everett said. “Additionally, there are barracks town halls where we accompany leaders making note of any issues in the barracks.”
For those who live on the installation in privatized housing, the Army Housing Office is where residents turn for help with mold issues.
Betty Beinkemper, Army Housing Office manager, said if there is a resident of privatized housing on Fort Polk concerned with mold, her staff will check it out.
“Usually if there is mold, there is a water issue — busted water pipe or leaking roof,” Beinkemper said. “But the majority of the time it’s not mold, it’s mildew, and a lot of people confuse the two.”
Mildew is usually where an area hasn’t been cleaned properly, where mold is a water issue. Beinkemper said sometimes people leave their air conditioning on too low or leave their doors open, and condensation forms.
“Since 2019 we’ve had three true mold issues in housing,” she said. “If mold is detected in a home or a Family believes they are having health issues from mold, then the guidance from IMCOM is the resident should see their healthcare provider, who will fill out a form and send it to public health, who in turn contacts us and we’ll all go to the home and do a visit.”
If it is determined there is mold, it’s turned over to Corvias for repairs, such as replacing walls, carpet or other items. Mildew will get around the edges of bathtubs, sinks or windows, and cleaning takes care of that.
Both the housing office and Corvias remind newcomers the area has high humidity and what they should do to help mitigate mold and mildew issues.
“If there is a problem, let us know about it,” Beinkemper said. “We’re constantly reminding residents about issues such as freezes that might cause pipes to burst or maintaining air conditioners at a reasonable temperature to avoid moisture issues. We also remind them to replace their air filters monthly.”
If a resident is not happy with what they receive from Corvias, Beinkemper said her staff will check it out.
“If we find an issue, we’ll have Corvias repair it,” she said. “That’s what we’re here for, to make sure everything is OK in the home. If mold is causing health issues, then contact us. We’ll come out and look at it, and if necessary, we’ll call public health to come out.”
Aaron Waterstraat, chief of industrial hygiene, Department of Public Health, said his office gets involved when there is a diagnosed respiratory condition that can be treated or diagnosed better with mold air sampling.
“If you see mold, you do a remediation,” Waterstraat said. “There is no medical consensus or federal or state regulations on mold. What might affect one person, might not affect another.”
If a person thinks there is mold, the first thing they should do is clean it. If it continues, Waterstraat said they should go to Corvias, and its incumbent on Corvias to repair or fix it.
“We get involved with complex indoor air quality issues,” he said. “If a healthcare provider asks us to check, then we will. We’re here to help. But most issues are not mold – it’s mildew. We don’t do the repairs – that’s up to Corvias. We just provide assistance to determine if there is a problem.”
If you live in on-post privatized housing and believe you have a mold problem, call the Fort Polk Housing Office at (337) 531-6000. For those who live in the barracks, contact DPW through ArMA, or call (337) 531-4701. If it is an emergency call (337) 531-1379. To sign out a Mold Buster cleaning kit visit the Self Help Store at 2700 Louisiana Ave., building 4541, or ENRMD, 1647 23rd St., building 2522.