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Los Altos facilities test low in chemical levels, high in mold materials

While none of the chemical levels tested in either the Los Altos City Hall council chambers or the Los Altos Youth Center were “of any concern,” according to the company contracted to test the air quality testing in both facilities, it did advise city staff in a 98-page report to improve screening for airborne mold.

Santa Clara environmental consulting firm HazMat Doc – hired upon the filing of multiple Americans with Disabilities Act accommodation requests from the Los Altos City Council – conducted 4-Phenylcyclohexene, Aldehyde Profile and Volatile Organics scans on Aug. 23, Aug. 27 and Sept. 5. The Town Crier received the company’s report through a public records act request.

HazMat Doc had four recommendations for the council chambers and one recommendation for the youth center to reduce the circulation of mold matter into and around the facilities. The recommendations primarily involved maintaining the systems that filtrate the air.  

For the chambers, the HVAC should be on and the air circulation should be increased while the room is occupied; the HVAC system should be examined during regular maintenance to make sure the filters are “keeping up with the demands” of the public’s regular use, which results showed may not currently be the case; the HVAC filters should be replaced regularly, even in an “accelerated” fashion and the HVAC system’s duct systems should be vacuumed and cleaned out entirely to rid the system of mold spores.

The youth center has no HVAC system, so HazMat Doc advised the city to install air purifiers or air filtration units that could run when the building is closed. Although the particulate matter levels will fluctuate when the center is being used and the windows are open, these units would be a way to try to keep the levels down, environmental consultants said.

The levels recorded should be used as guidance, not as a key factor, in analyzing the results, HazMat Doc technical manager Murali Putty wrote in the report submitted to the city upon finalization of the testing.

Sample results

The baseline samples proved that four significant mold genera, or mold that are historically known to cause acute allergies or infections to human beings, are present in the inside of either the chambers or the youth center.

Although the name of the person or people who filed the ADA accommodation requests is confidential, some community members have speculated that councilwoman Jeannie Bruins did so due to her asthma. Bruins has not publicly confirmed the accusation but did call into or remove herself temporarily from council meetings within the last year.

Despite another newspaper’s claim that air quality results submitted to the city indicate “nothing was wrong with the air,” one specific type of mold identified in the interior air sample in the council chambers – the Alternaria species – can be directly linked to Type I allergies such as asthma.

Five significant mold genera were identified on the outside of the buildings; they were either reduced in potency or nonexistent on the inside of the buildings. Six non-significant mold genera, or mold that does not have a historic link to human allergies or infections but still have “some level” of allergenicity, were elevated in potency inside the building in comparison to the outside or just were just as potent as they were outside.

Next steps

Putty informed staff in the HazMat doc results report that once the city answers the call to action and reacts with the HVAC and air purifier fixes, staff should leave some time for the air to return to “normal” conditions. Upon completion of the step, the city can have HazMat Doc employees return for a mold-screening retest to “verify the efficacy of the actions.”

During an interview with the Town Crier earlier this month, city manager Chris Jordan said the council would not move out of the youth center – where it moved when minor chamber renovations were made and remained after the first ADA accommodation request was filed in June – until ADA consultant Rachel Shaw and her team met with all of the affected council members and each one felt that her needs were addressed. At this time, the report on the air quality testing was still being assembled.

When contacted for comment on what will happen next, Jordan could not be reached prior to the publication’s deadline.

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