Chemical and Petroleum Engineering building faces effects of heavy rainfall with mold problem

Savana Dunning

Although the boil water notice has lifted, the effects of the last two months of heavy rainfall have extended beyond the water supply. The increased humidity created a mold problem in the Chemical and Petroleum Engineering building.

Central Texas reached near record levels of rainfall this September and October, which led to flooding in Austin that caused water contamination and resulted in a weeklong boil water notice. It was during this period of heavy rainfall University staff began noticing mold growth inside the CPE.

“There was a problem that surfaced because of certain conditions. We identified it, we figured out some solutions and now we’re implementing plans to get it corrected,” said Michael Carmagnola, director of Project Management and Construction Services.

The CPE’s 32-year-old air conditioners are original to the building. The air conditioners bring in air from outside, dehumidify it and send it inside. But due to the recent increase of water in the air, the air conditioners were unable to dehumidify it all, causing increased humidity in the building.

“Because of the air requirements in that building and the high level of research, that system is not able to keep up, particularly with the high humidity levels at that time,” Carmagnola said. “They do need to be replaced, and that’s exactly the plan. Once those units are replaced, then we’re able to go in and remove all of the mold.”

The mold that grew in the CPE’s air conditioners and around the building is the same kind of mold that grows outside during storms. It develops from mold spores in the air that, when given the right temperature and humidity level, can grow within 24 to 48 hours of exposure.

John Salsman, director of Environmental Health and Safety, said the CPE’s mold poses a minimal health risk and would mostly affect people with mold allergies, who might experience symptoms ranging from runny nose to chest tightness.

“It’s really depends on the person,” Salsman said. “People who are bothered by mold in Austin right now are probably going to be bothered whether they go into the CPE or not because the mold levels are high from all the rain we’ve had recently.”

Chemical engineering senior Kyrene Moe and other students who frequent the building said it has not been noticeable.

“I don’t think I’ve noticed,” Moe said. “The weather has been changing though over the past couple of days, so indoors feels a little different around campus in general.”

Carmagnola said the building will be sectioned off into 18 sections, corresponding to the building’s 18 mechanical units, that will be tackled one by one. The old air conditioning units will be replaced and the mold in the area will be removed by the end of next summer. 

“It will take a little time to get each of those done,” Carmagnola said. “We’ll only impact a small portion of the building at any one time.”

Even though she has not encountered the mold problem, Moe said the news is unsurprising.

“This building is one of the older buildings on campus.” Moe said. “If it’s not dangerous it doesn’t concern me. I don’t feel threatened by it in any way.”