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Business owner mad about mold

Eben Harrell
Mold-related health concerns have led at least one tenant at 517 E. Hopkins Ave. Main St. Printing to log a complaint with the city. The building, owned by Dave Danforth, also houses the Aspen Daily News and Bleeker Street Gym. Main St. Printing and the gym were relocated to the downtown building while construction of Obermeyer Place is under way. Aspen Times photo.
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A business displaced by the construction of Obermeyer Place is in conflict with its landlord and the city of Aspen, claiming its new retail space is uninhabitable and hazardous to the health of its employees and customers.Main St. Printing and Copy Center was moved from its old location on Bleeker Street to a retail space on East Hopkins, where Gracy’s was most recently located. Business owner Mona Long claims that in addition to two sewer pits, the space has a noxious gas smell and a potentially toxic mold growing on the walls. Long is calling for her landlord to undertake an elaborate cleaning process that includes sanitation tents and workers in HAZMAT protection suits. But Long’s landlord and the director of Aspen’s Environmental Health Department claim there is no immediate health risk and an elaborate cleanup process is not warranted without further study.

The building, which also houses the offices of the Aspen Daily News, is owned by Daily News owner Dave Danforth. Long’s retail space is sublet by Klaus Obermeyer, the owner of Obermeyer Skiwear, who is currently redeveloping his property – Obermeyer Place – between Rio Grande Park and Main Street. Danforth said a city of Aspen report released yesterday indicates the print shop is safe and that further study is needed before an invasive cleanup begins.The Obermeyer Place project displaced around two dozen businesses in June, including Main St. Printing. As part of his development plan, Obermeyer found new locations for the businesses.When Long moved into the new site, she was warned by Gracy’s owner Karen Carner about problems with a noxious smell. Carner said yesterday she had complained to Danforth and his property manager “countless times” about the gaseous smell without resolution.After Main St. Printing moved in, Long hired an independent industrial hygienist from Denver to investigate whether the building was hazardous. Specialist Steve Herron discovered high levels of bacteria in the sewage pit and abnormally high levels of mold in the office. The mold spores found include Stachybotrys, a potentially dangerous mold spore that can cause a range of illnesses after prolonged exposure.”In this case, significant amounts of bacteria are present, which could potentially lead to a variety of health hazards,” the report read in part.

Long said Wednesday that she is concerned the environmental contamination and the costs associated with cleaning it up will force her into bankruptcy.”I am taking a risk that I’ll lose my longtime employees and my customers.” Long said. “I serve my customers on a daily, weekly and monthly basis – I’m afraid they’ll go away.”Reached by telephone yesterday, Danforth said the sewage pits are in fact sealed grease pits from an old restaurant and do not pose a health risk. He also said the mold counts in the building, while a concern, were not an immediate health risk.”We will get it fixed. It’s a relatively commonplace issue,” Danforth said. “We hope Mona [Long] is not enduring needless worry and concern.”A report released by the city of Aspen yesterday supported Danforth’s position. The report, issued by City Environmental Health Director Lee Cassin, stated that the mold readings provided by the industrial hygienist “were not significant.””I don’t think this is an immediate public health concern,” Cassin said. “I would encourage them to do more studies before they go ripping out walls and shutting down the business. Mold is a health concern for people that are allergic, but there’s no evidence that Stachybotrys is any more dangerous than other varieties.”

Lars Bart, a professional negotiator hired by Long, challenged the city’s findings. He pointed out that it took the city three weeks to respond to the industrial hygienist’s report. He also challenged Cassin’s qualifications. “I don’t think she’s qualified to make this decision,” Bart said. “What she’s saying is that everything you read [about mold] on the Internet is wrong, everything the abatement companies are saying is wrong. We’re happy to hire another industrial hygienist, but I’m sure he or she will find the same thing – this is a health concern.”Responding to Cassin’s report, Long said she will demand the city provide her with a letter of indemnification. Such a letter would clear Long of liability if one of her employees or customers becomes ill.”If they are saying I don’t have a problem, I want that in writing so I’m not liable, because that’s a chief concern,” Long said.Representatives from Obermeyer Place did not return repeated phone calls seeking comment.Eben Harrell’s e-mail address is eharrell@aspentimes.com


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