Science professors and researchers at the College of Charleston are struggling with long-standing mold contamination in the college's main science building that they said is making them and their students sick.
The problem is in the Rita Liddy Hollings Science Center at George and Coming streets, and on a recent warm afternoon, construction workers were tearing out slabs of drywall that were covered with green mold.
Across the hallway, temperatures in a lab were 83 degrees, rendering some of the lab's delicate and expensive instruments unusable because the high temperatures would skew any results.
Faculty say the brick three-story building has serious ventilation problems, and dank moldy odors permeate their offices and classrooms. Some instructors have developed allergic reactions and skin and health problems.
College officials acknowledge that the building needs to be renovated but say they don't have money to do a major overhaul.
Robin Humphreys, a geology professor, is one of several faculty members who said mold has been a problem for nearly a decade.
She said that after one particularly bad mold bloom on the third floor, she became so ill from an allergic reaction that her lips turned blue and she had to lecture her students using a microphone.
Mitchell Colgan, chair of the department of Geology and Environmental Geoscience, confirmed that many of "my colleagues feel ill as soon as they walk into their offices. Some have come to my office with their eyes watering and their skin red. They want to work but they've had to go home."
Students have made similar complaints, he said.
Other faculty members, including some who asked to remain anonymous because they feared their positions in the college might be affected, said the college has sidestepped their pleas for help by doing minor or cosmetic repairs.
Several mentioned that when they complained that leaks were making ceiling tiles moldy, maintenance workers simply replaced the tiles and did not repair the leaks. They said they often feel better after they leave the building for the day or go on vacation.
Mold grows quickly in the South's sweatbox climate, creating ripe conditions for "sick building syndrome" when buildings aren't properly ventilated. Once established, the spores can produce toxic byproducts that trigger asthma and allergic reactions similar to hay fever and flu.
Mike Robertson, director of media relations at the college, said "the whole building has had problems in the past, and that's why we're building a new science building."
The new building is nearing completion and some science departments will be moved from the Hollings building. The college will then renovate the Hollings building, he said. But that renovation may take time.
First, an in-depth study of the problem needs to be done, Robertson said, adding that no timetable has been set for this assessment.
Once that study has been done, the college will have a better idea of what it needs to do to fix the Hollings building and how much it will cost. Even so, Robertson said the college doesn't have the money to do a major overhaul. The building was built in 1975 and expanded in 1988.
Humphreys and other faculty members said the building needs major work immediately. "There is no excuse for not treating this problem," she said.