Detroit Metro Airport Tower Due for Mold Cleanup

The Federal Aviation Administration is to remove toxic mold from the air traffic control tower at Detroit Metro Airport next week.

A union official said the plan is flawed and won't do enough to fix a mold problem the administration discovered in September. The issue prompted an inquiry signed by nine members of Congress.

The FAA is paying MIS Corp. of Saginaw $25,000 to replace drywall on the fourth and ninth floors of the tower to remove the mold, said FAA spokesman Tony Molinaro.

The project should take five to six days. Work will take place between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m., he said.

Vince Sugent, president of the union local that represents 41 air traffic controllers, said there are problems with the administration's plan, including the federal agency's expectation that employees will stay in the tower during the cleanup.

"We want this thing stopped and done properly," said Sugent, of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association. "The mistakes that they're going to make are paramount."

A cleanup plan such as this can be carried out with air traffic controllers in the tower and pose a minimal risk to employees, as long as the contractor contains the atmosphere properly, said Dr. Michael Harbut, chief at the Center for Occupational and Environmental Medicine in Royal Oak.

But Harbut said: "Air traffic controllers with any history of allergy probably ought not to be working, just as a matter of safety."

If the controllers were to vacate the tower, they would have to work in an older tower by the Smith terminal that was used in January during an earlier cleanup attempt.

The FAA's plan also does not address a union office on the 10th floor, where the union's own tests detected mold.

The FAA said it has not detected mold in the tower cab, where controllers work.

But during the past few months, Sugent said, air traffic controllers have been complaining about stuffy noses and dry and itchy eyes.

"The job before us now is for everyone to work together on an agreed-upon plan that fully ensures the health and safety of the workers in the Metro Airport control tower. Our air traffic controllers work hard to protect the flying public; they certainly deserve the same care," said U.S. Rep. John Dingell. The Democrat from Dearborn was one of the nine members of Congress who signed a letter asking about the situation.

It has taken the FAA more than seven months to deal with the tower's mold problem.

The January attempt to spray the mold prompted an evacuation of the tower after controllers complained of nausea, lightheadedness and headaches.

The people on duty that day were evacuated for about five hours and worked in the Smith terminal tower until later that evening.

"We took it really slow to make sure everyone knew exactly what was being planned," Molinaro said.

In its response to the congressional letter, the FAA wrote that it canceled its first request for bids in December because of "excessive cost and disparity between bids," and rebid the contract.

The union worries that the FAA is cutting corners. So far the administration has spent at least $15,900 on the mold problem in the tower, Molinaro said.