BCC agrees to remove mold
At first, the Bronx Community College (BCC) administration said there was no mold in Colston Hall, which had been shuttered for six weeks after dozens of pipes burst and flooded the seven-floor building in January. But a leading national mold inspector found otherwise.
Sharon Utakis, the campus PSC chapter chair, pressed the administration to do detailed mold assessments in the rooms affected by the flood. The university and college administration said no – until recently.
“The months of pressure from departments, faculty council, the PSC Health and Safety Watchdogs, PSC leadership and the BCC PSC chapter worked,” wrote BCC Chapter Chair Sharon Utakis in a May 2 email update to chapter members. She explained that BCC and the CUNY central administration had agreed to replace the drywall in water-damaged rooms in Colston – exactly what had been recommended months ago by Microecologies, a mold inspector the union had hired.
“We can’t let them completely off the hook now,” Utakis added. “We need to follow up and make sure they do what they say they’re going to do.”
The administration’s about-face did not occur by accident – it was the result of escalating union pressure. When the BCC administration was adamant that there was no mold, Utakis was insistent that a thorough evaluation be done. The administration then agreed to allow the union to bring in Microecologies, a nationally recognized mold consultant, to inspect the building. But in the end, the administration ignored the inspector’s full recommendations.
Microecologies found mold or the suggestion of mold in half of the eight rooms they inspected. They recommended that drywall be replaced in rooms where the pipes had burst and in the rooms below. They also asked for additional air sampling once the work was complete.
The BCC administration stuck to their position and own methods. They “cleaned and sanitized” the areas identified by Microecologies, a February 28 administration email stated. Management’s position seemed to be that the mold issue had been addressed.
But the PSC persisted.
“Mold could be hiding behind soaked drywall, impossible to see with painted drywall, or developing in porous materials that remained wet after the flood,” Jean Grassman, an associate professor at CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and the PSC Health and Safety Watchdogs cochair, told Clarion in March.
PSC members at BCC voiced their frustration with the administration by talking to the press and politicians. They gathered petition signatures while wearing respirator masks.
In April, PSC leadership wrote to BCC President Thomas Isekenegbe, asking again for a thorough inspection of the more than 40 rooms that were impacted by the January flood. As a result, a conference call was scheduled with PSC leaders and BCC and CUNY administrators on April 30. On the call, administrators agreed to change the drywall in more than a dozen rooms where water had soaked through it.
The PSC said the reversal was a big victory for the chapter and for every student and worker who uses Colston Hall.
There is still a lot of work to be done to make BCC a safe working and learning environment, Utakis said. In late March, several pipes burst in another BCC building, Guggenheim Hall, which was temporarily closed. Changes at Colston are a step in the right direction.
“We were successful because we were persistent and because we were right. This was a situation where the problem was apparent – permeable drywall was wet for over 48 hours and therefore subject to mold growth,” Grassman said. “In the end, the easiest action for the administration was to do the right thing.”