STETSON, Maine — Black mold started creeping up the white walls inside the town office of this Penobscot County community several months ago, forcing town officials to evacuate the building.
“It’s contaminated and we can’t move back in,” Don Carroll, chairman of the town selectmen, said Friday. “We’ve moved out.”
Town clerks, code enforcement and the assessor are now sharing the cramped kitchen area of a building that is home to the Stetson Fire Department and town library.
Shortly after testing confirmed that there is black toxic mold spores in the air, requiring all who enter the building to wear a mask so they don’t inhale it, town officials proposed renovating the building.
“We got a quote of $120,000” to fix the problem, Carroll said, adding that the quote did not come with a guarantee and didn’t consider “a second room they didn’t look at and the second floor.”
“It’s more money than we have,” the chairman said.
Residents got upset during a special town meeting called in mid-November to consider spending up to $225,000 to either fix the problem or build an addition onto the fire station, Carroll said.
“We had a very contentious special town meeting,” he said. “It turned into a shouting match. Some people wanted to do it and some people didn’t and there was a lot of accusations that we didn’t do our homework.”
Paul Davis Restoration of Milford cut out the molded section of the wall that contained the visible black mold, which ran along the lower portions of three walls, and he sprayed the carpet. The town also rented two air exchange machines, but at $1,200 a week they were only affordable for a couple of weeks, Carroll said.
Even though there is now no visible signs of black mold in the 80-year-old building, “it’s still there,” he said. “You can’t get rid of it.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on its website cites an Institute of Medicine study that concludes “there was sufficient evidence to link indoor exposure to mold with upper respiratory tract symptoms, cough, and wheezing in otherwise healthy people; with asthma symptoms in people with asthma; and with hypersensitivity pneumonitis in individuals susceptible to that immune-mediated condition.”
The institute also found “suggestive evidence linking indoor mold exposure and respiratory illness in otherwise healthy children,” it states.
Black mold typically grows on materials such as fiberboard, gypsum board, paper, dust and lint, and grows “when there is moisture from water damage, excessive humidity, water leaks, condensation, water infiltration, or flooding,” the CDC website states.
The town’s vehicle registration, birth and death certificate records and forms are in a large locked safe at the town hall because the safe is too big for the approximately 10- by 10-foot space the town clerks now share at the fire station.
“The problem is right now we don’t have the security in place for our license plates,” which the state requires, Carroll said. “We have to keep running back and forth for them.”
There was some talk of using the town’s historic meeting house, located between the fire station and town hall, for town business but that building also has mold and moisture problems, the head selectman said.
With little money to work with, town leaders decided to look at the library, which is used by about 200 residents every month, Carroll said. At first they wanted to take over the entire space, but are now spending about $1,000 to separate out a back section for town employees.
“We came up with a solution that didn’t make everybody happy but temporarily satisfied them,” Carroll said. “It’s something we can live with.”
The town also formed a seven-person committee to look into other ways to get funding, such as grants, he said. What is going to happen to the vacant town hall is still up in the air.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified Stetson's historic meeting house as its historical society building.