The entire population of Fulton County Jail inmates has been relocated after mold was discovered within the Fulton County Sheriff's Department in a March 31 report from the Arkansas Department of Labor. According to authorities, the mold is capable of producing extremely toxic mycotoxins that can cause symptoms such as skin lesions and pulmonary emphysema.
"The jail administrator Joann Cunningham and Walter (Sheriff Dillinger) decided that due to the fact that we have a mold problem in the upstairs part, we would move the prisoners," Salem Police Chief Al Roork said. "The mold is upstairs primarily in Walter's office, like in the evidence room."
Cunningham said although the mold was upstairs in the sheriff's department in relationship to the jail, her top priority was the health and welfare of the prisoners and she took the appropriate preventive action. Although the prisoners are safe from the biological invader, Fulton County employees continue to work.
"We don't have a choice; we have to be here, but we thought we could at least move the prisoners until we get this fixed," Roork said.
The sheriff's department includes dispatchers, administrators, investigators and deputies, who all work in coordination to ensure the people of the city of Salem and Fulton County have protection, are under constant exposure until the mold is removed.
"I don't know what we can do about it. You have to work; we have to be here for the public. So, I don't know what we are going to do," Cunningham said.
"We are here to protect and serve," said Fulton County Investigator Terry Walker.
Walker said he and the sheriff are working to find specialists with the proper credentials to neutralize the threat.
According to documents from the Wisconsin Occupational Health Laboratory who analyzed the mold samples, there are three species of mold abundant in the bulk samples taken.
Stachybotrys chartarum is the most prolific species of mold spotlighted in the report, described as black and slimy in appearance. "Exposure to these mycotoxins can result through inhalation, ingestion and dermal exposure," the Toxic Mold Information Center said. "Symptoms of exposure include dermatitis, cough, rhinitis, nose bleeds, cold and flu-like symptoms, headache, malaise and fever."
"Mold is found everywhere," Mike Watson, Arkansas Occupational Safety and Health supervisor with the Arkansas Department of Labor said. "All molds produce mycotoxins during its lifespan and anytime there is an excess of mycotoxins found in the workplace, because of Arkansas law; you have to provide a safe and healthy work place. Anytime there is a hazard, if you can't eliminate the hazard you must protect the employee from the hazard. You have to take those measures," Watson said.
Roork and the sheriff's department is working to expedite the process of cleaning up but funding must come from the county.
"They are going to have to pull the paneling off the walls. We are going to have to do full mold abatement and replace the paneling and the carpet in Walter's office. Then hopefully everything will be much better," Roork said.
According to Fulton County Judge Charles Willett, the county is currently waiting for insurance money to be appropriated toward the sheriff's department for the abatement.