By Christina Calloway
Ninth Judicial District Chief Judge Drew Tatum has canceled grand jury proceedings today and is considering canceling more court proceedings after environmental inspectors discovered eight different types of mold in the Roosevelt County Courthouse.
A lab report was released last week, showing the most significant amount of mold being found in the District Court area. Tatum said Thursday he has ordered his staff to purchase gauze masks for court employees.
Tatum said until he knows the dangers of the mold, he plans to cancel court proceedings for the safety of the community.
“It’s not clear to me as to what the exact health concerns are and we need to make sure everyone is safe,” said Tatum. “We need to evaluate the safety of community.”
The inspection was conducted by an independent laboratory in Lovington. A series of air samples were taken throughout the four-floor courthouse. Fungal species were identified on all floors.
Of the samples collected, Stachybotrys, a form of black mold that is known to produce potent toxins under certain circumstances, was found on the third and second floors.
The report also said a sample collected in the District Court Clerk’s office on the third floor identified several fungal species with spore counts higher than spore counts taken from a sample outside, meaning the readings were outside the normal industry standard.
Samples collected in the District Court courtroom and judge’s chambers also found high spore counts.
Tatum said as tenants of the courthouse, the court depends on the county administration to make sure the working environment is safe for the working employees.
“We’re concerned about it, we hope the county can remediate it as soon as possible,” Tatum said. “We’re hoping the county will make it safe not only for our employees but for the community.”
Roosevelt County Manager Charlene Webb said she’ll be speaking with the consultants today to discuss the next steps in removing mold from the courthouse. She said the report did not suggest the samples found were life-threatening.
“The report does not suggest we have to wear masks or have to remove people,” Webb said. “If the levels were high enough, the consultant would have said we have to remove people.”
Webb said she wants to find the source of the mold to remove it for good.
“That’s our intent, but that doesn’t happen in a few days,” she added.
She also had the courthouse’s maintenance staff look into the issue and had them replace the ceiling tiles and clean the vents.
Webb said the state mandates the county provide office space and courtroom space for District Court.
The air sampling was conducted after court employees voiced their concerns about pigeon feathers and fecal matter observed coming out of the duct work on the third floor, the report said.