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Grant Sawyer Building-IAQ Investigation James Craner, MD, MPH

Executive Summary April 4, 2018

In December, 2017, an independent occupational and environmental medicine consultant


recommended an indoor environmental investigation of the of the Grant Sawyer Building to evaluate
the cause of ongoing, potentially building-related symptoms (BRS) reported by building occupants.

The most likely etiology that explains the reported illness among multiple occupants throughout the
building is indoor mold contamination resulting from longstanding, ongoing water leaks from the hot
water valves in the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system. These HVAC leaks and
occupant health complaints are postulated to be the same as those that occurred in the mid-1990s
within a few years after the building opened. Over the past 20 years, water-damaged ceiling tiles have
been replaced by maintenance staff after water stains have been detected on the bottom (occupant-
facing) side.

The suspected mechanism and route of indoor contamination is mold growth on the top (plenum-
facing) side of suspended, cellulose-based ceiling tiles that became water-damaged (wet) from water
drips from a leaking valve above them. When the tile material dried and the ventilation return-air in the
ceiling plenum passed over them, mold spores could have aerosolized from the tile surface into the air.
These spores could then passively migrate from the ceiling plenum, through the return-air grilles and
into the occupied spaces, where they could gradually accumulate as settled dust in the carpets. Normal
building activity (walking, vibration, office maintenance) could transiently agitate these microscopic
contaminants into the indoor air, where they could be inhaled by occupants. Several rounds of indoor
air sampling in areas of the building where occupants’ symptoms have been reported have
demonstrated typical indoor concentrations of normal, harmless “background” molds, but not molds
associated with adverse health effects. However, because air tests measure only a current snapshot of
conditions, they may not be sufficiently sensitive to identify longstanding or fluctuating, low-level,
airborne indoor mold (bioaerosol) contaminant spores.

The building also has well-documented thermal comfort problems (i.e., too hot or too cold; stuffy air)
related to mechanical problems with the HVAC system, which is now being fixed through a major
repair/replacement project. Pigeon roosting on the roof has also been an ongoing problem which is
being addressed through humane deterrent methods, but there is no evidence of pigeon-related
infectious or immunological diseases based on available claims and illness reports. Neither these
environmental conditions nor any other chemical, physical, infectious or psychological etiology plausibly
explains the collectively reported occupant symptomatology.

To address the hypothesis of low-level, indoor mold contamination, a total of 20 representative,


composite samples of settled dust in the carpets and on the top (plenum) side of ceiling tiles were
collected throughout the building in January, 2018. The sampling strategy was designed to maximally
detect and measure the presence of accumulated viable and non-viable mold contaminants through a
combination of microscopic culture analysis (which requires approximately 6 weeks) and polymerase
chain reaction (PCR), a commercially available, DNA-based test. The sampling data were interpreted by
both a mycologist and the occupational and environmental medicine physician.

Overall, the settled samples demonstrated very low total and mold concentrations which reflect
generally clean conditions in the building. The pattern of mold types (taxa) measured in the settled

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Grant Sawyer Building-IAQ Investigation James Craner, MD, MPH
Executive Summary April 4, 2018

dust is reflective of the outdoor Las Vegas environment and is an expected finding in the indoor
environment.

The exceptional finding was the detection of very low concentrations of Stachybotrys chartarum in 60%
of PCR samples, and in 10% of culture samples, in multiple locations throughout the building.
Stachybotrys chartarum is a mold species that grows on very wet building materials, and its presence—
usually in air and at much higher concentrations in settled dust—is highly associated with building-
related symptoms. In addition, Aspergillus niger, a mold sometimes found on water-damaged building
materials, was detected at low concentrations in all (100%) of the carpet and ceiling tile samples. The
disproportionately high prevalence and distribution (albeit at very low concentrations) of these two
mold species in the settled dust in the Grant Sawyer Building is atypical in comparison to the limited
published research data on molds measured in the settled carpet dust of non-problem office buildings.

By inference, these findings support the working hypothesis that mold contaminants originated on the
plenum side of ceiling tiles have gradually disseminated into the settled dust of the occupied spaces
throughout the building over an extended period. The findings from the sampling data thus support,
but do not unequivocally prove the working hypothesis that the Grant Sawyer Building is mold-
contaminated and is the cause of occupant health issues (BRS). Important considerations in interpreting
the significance of the sampling data include the inherent methodological limitations in the sampling
and analytical methodologies; the overall low dust and mold concentrations; and the uncertainties in
current scientific understanding of causation, diagnosis and mechanism of adverse health effects from
indoor mold exposure in water-damaged buildings.

Based upon this interpretation of the sampling results in the context of ongoing, occupant health
considerations, a remediation of the disseminated, mold-contaminated settled dust is recommended
for the entire Grant Sawyer Building. The remediation should occur after completion of the HVAC
repair/replacement project, which will definitively address the underlying cause of ongoing water
intrusion. Clean up of residual contaminant dust should be accomplished by a thorough wet
cleaning/extraction of carpets and other large, porous materials and surfaces throughout the building.
This approach is intended to maximize mold contaminant removal while minimizing generation of
contaminant-laden particulates into the indoor air. The efficacy of the remediation should be
determined by ascertaining occupants’ resolution of BRS complaints: a return to asymptomatic
occupancy by a substantial majority of occupants would constitute a successful mold remediation. After
completion of the remediation and a return to customary occupancy conditions, the settled dust
throughout the building will be re-tested to verify the extent to which background concentrations of
putative contaminants (Stachybotrys chartarum and Aspergillus niger) have been removed.

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