Oklahoma County Jail sued for mold exposure

The Oklahoma County Jail (FILE/KOKH)

The Oklahoma county jail has faced criticism over safety for inmates, but what about the safety of the people who work there? County leaders were notified a year ago that there were potential health problems due to mold at the detention center. Now, inmates are suing Oklahoma County because of exposure to mold.

An independent study found what is commonly referred to as “black mold” in offices, on walls, on ceiling tiles and in air vents in the county jail. That study was presented to Oklahoma County Commissioners in October of 2016.

“Some molds that are called black molds this is the Stachybotrys Mold and it is considered more of a toxic type of mold,” Dan Ratcliff, an environmental science professor at Rose State College, told FOX 25.

Ratcliff says mold can lead to respiratory tract infections.

Just wiping off walls will not work to remove mold, in fact to remove surface mold bleach is required. Even still, a surface treatment will not eliminate a mold infestation.

“Most of the fungus is the subsurface it is in the material itself and the bleach is only going to kill the surface material so you have to remove it because if you don't remove it,” Ratcliff warned, “It will just come right back.”

Cleaning up mold is possible and Ratcliff says that cleanup is relatively easy if it is addressed early. However, the types of harm mold can lead to is a subject that is still being debated by science. Ratcliff says while many studies show mild problems - some point to the potential for more serious problems.

The bottom line though; mold needs to be cleaned up.

“We know there is a health danger and if you are exposed long term over it,” Ratcliff said, “It is going to be worse off for you. “

Oklahoma County Commissioner Brian Maughan said cleanup of the mold is underway now, but added it would have been much easier and much cheaper if the problem was addressed sooner.

“Part of it is,” Maughan told FOX 25, “We believe it wasn't reported immediately at least that's what the experts said whenever we finally hired a team that came in there and said that this hadn't been reported as soon as they said it could have been.”

The mold forced some employees out of their offices and now at least three inmates as suing the county for mold exposure. The county argues testing shows the air is safe to breath.

“Once we found out about it as the board of county commissioners we hired a team and they went to work on trying to get it done,” Maughan said.

Maughan believes the county jail is not beyond saving and he's hopeful new reforms will help make the work easier.

“I think this facility could be extended for a good while i think there is a possibility we will be able to do other things like maybe build a satellite facility somewhere else. “

The new Oklahoma County Sheriff, P.D. Taylor, who was second in command for years at the sheriff's office, denied our multiple requests to talk on camera about any of the issues impacting the jail. His spokesman only said the sheriff was making changes to improve conditions at the jail.

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