Mold clean-up starts Thursday at an Upstate jail.

7News got an inside look at the Cherokee County Detention Center where maintenance staff found mold on a return air vent in a housing unit last week.

“Realized it was not there just previously a few days before or even the previous week,” Cherokee County Sheriff Steve Mueller said.

He said that prompted emergency air quality testing. Results revealed mold in two of the eight housing units, each with at least 40 inmates.

“We asked did the staff or the inmates need to wear any masks or anything like that and the folks that did the air quality tests said absolutely not, it’s not necessary,” Mueller said. “They may have sneezing or itching, runny nose. in the chest they’ll have shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing.”

Dr. Neil Kao is an allergy and asthma specialist.

“Mold is commonly around in the environment so it’s not something they should necessarily panic about,” said Dr. Kao, adding that mold mostly impacts people with weaker immune systems or allergies, and symptoms are worse with longer exposure. “They may have sneezing or itching, runny nose. in the chest they’ll have shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing.”

Mueller says an outside company will come in to clean the mold one unit at a time. He said inmates will be removed from that unit during the remediation.

“It’s challenging because you have to spread those inmates around,” the sheriff said. “Also looked at some of the inmates that were ready to be released. We released some inmates a couple days early. We’ve also talked to the magistrate about some inmates being let out on a personal recognizance bond, just to reduce our numbers So our staff has done a good job with that to minimize the overcrowding.”

Mueller said the mold seems to stem from humidity issues.

“Determined that we had a huge humidity problem, which was creating condensation on the walls which was fostering a growth area for the mold,” said Mueller. “They [remediation company] will go above the ceiling, check to make sure there’s no roof leaks but at this stage they feel like the condensation is coming from HVAC issues.”

He said while a company has been working on HVAC issues this week, they’ll have to replace some units which can cost $10,000-$15,000.

The sheriff adds that they budget about $50k-60k for maintenance and the immediate and long term fixes look to cost more than that, so they will talk with county leaders about funding.

“Once they get above the ceiling, it is our hope and prayer that it’s not more extensive mold growth up there,” Mueller said. “If there’s more work to be done above the ceiling in the duct work, that certainly makes it a longer project, it makes it more expensive, and we won’t know that until the remediation company comes in.”

Mueller said they’re following all the necessary recommendations from the remediation company.

“To protect the health and safety of the staff as well as the inmates here,” said Mueller.

The sheriff says in the worst case scenario, it’ll take 5 weeks to clean each housing unit. Afterwards, more air quality tests will be conducted throughout the facility to ensure it no longer has mold.

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