Pitt County Detention Center officials plan to bring in the county's health inspector next week to figure out what more can be done to combat a mildew problem that detainees say is causing them respiratory issues and sinus problems.
Staff has been cleaning the problem area with bleach for more than a month. They want to learn what, if any, other actions they should be taking, said Lt. Kip Gaskins with the Pitt County Sheriff's Office. The sheriff manages the detention center.
"We are going to make use of all the resources we have, have someone look at it and offer another perspective," Gaskins said.
The Daily Reflector received a letter signed by 20 detainees claiming there is a black mold problem in the jail's B-1 block. The letter claims jail officials are ignoring the problem.
"Our health is our concern and without outside help we will not likely get any better," the letter said.
"There is a mildew issue in there that we are combating at present and have been about five or six weeks continuously," said Major Jeff Phillips, director of the detention center. It's affecting the exterior walls of eight blocks within the A and B blocks of the jail.
Phillips said he received one inmate grievance about the mildew in December and two grievances in January. Neither grievance mentioned health-related problems, Phillips said.
It appears the problem is stemming from some of the rapid temperature changes that occurred in December and January, Phillips said.
"We've noticed a severe, rapid decrease and increase in temperatures in the weather. The exterior walls in two cells in the A-B block area are sweating tremendously in reference to these temperature changes," Phillips said. The mildew is growing in the area where condensation is forming.
The area is being cleaned with sodium hypochlorite, more commonly known as bleach, Phillips said. The product being used has a bonding agent included to help it stick to the wall, "to help combat the mildew because of the continued moisture problem," he said.
"We've seen this type of issue before but not as severe as we have this year with the rapid temperature changes," Phillips said.
Mildew and mold are both fungi. Mold usually has a fuzzy appearance and has multiple colors. Mildew usually appears to be powdery or downy. It typically starts out white and may later turn yellow, brown or black. Both appear in structures with high relative humidity or building materials that absorb and retain moisture, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Both can cause respiratory problems, according to the CDC.
Phillips said he checked with the detention center's nurse to find out how many individuals have been seen with respiratory or sinus problems. Medical staff said they've treated three or four detainees for sinus and respiratory issues, not an unusual number for this time of year.
Also, there isn't a definitive link between these conditions and the mildew because detainees in A and B block are allowed outside for exercise, meaning they experience the same weather conditions that cause respiratory problems in the civilian population.
"I have asked (the nurse) to inform me if there is an increase in complaints because that would be a concern," Phillips said.
A and B blocks have a quad block design, Phillips said, where there is a center space with two blocks on the right and two blocks on the left. The individual blocks are open, dormitory-styled spaces with bunk beds. Each block has an average of between 24-26 inmates, depending on their status, Phillips said.
A-block normally holds individuals with a minimum security classification and B-block is medium security.