Health worries force Pembroke Hall to face air quality investigation

November 17, 2017


School of Communication and Media professors who call Pembroke Hall’s first floor home are being re-located due to lingering suspicions; harmful substances may be hiding behind the building’s walls. Leading up to the closing, numerous students interviewed by The Beacon complained about headaches and nausea. Professors reported having to seek medical attention.


Student Equipment Office Manager Tim DeMoss said the entire equipment office had to be moved into the T.V. studio late last week.


“It’s an interesting situation but we’re working with it,” DeMoss said.


Palm Beach Atlantic University hired BMS CAT, a company specializing in resolving indoor air quality issues, to investigate the cause(s) of the concerns. BMS CAT scheduled the beginning of work for the first floor of Pembroke Hall to start Monday, Nov. 13; this requires isolation of the area. The second and third floors are accessible through use of the east stairwell.


Provost and Chief Academic Officer Randy Richards addressed an email late last week to all professors with offices located in Pembroke Hall; it’s subject line read: “Pembroke Shuffle”. The email, obtained by The Beacon, addressed the foreseeable future of Pembroke Hall.


“Initial tests have not yet identified the source of the problem. Further testing is needed that will require the HVAC system to be shut down for a period of time,” Richards said in the email.


Professor of Communications and Media Studies Bob Fortner believes he and his colleagues began experiencing symptoms several weeks after Hurricane Irma struck West Palm Beach. Fortner developed an upper-respiratory infection which causes his voice to fade throughout each day.


“I’ve had to end classes a little early. . . when I get to the point where I can’t talk anymore I say, ‘OK that’s enough for today,’” Fortner said.


Another professor described the smell as being “unhealthy” and has been experiencing dizziness and excessive sneezing.


“At some point in the last couple weeks I decided not to work out of my office anymore so I’ve been a nomad for a few weeks, depending on how I felt,” Professor of Digital Media Danilda Martinez said.

Signs posted on the doors to Pembroke Hall direct students to an alternate entrance. Professor Danilda Martinez packed her office belongings as air quality concerns forced other professors to relocate temporarily.

The Beacon Today Advisor and Assistant Professor of Convergence Journalism Israel Balderas initially thought water leaked into the building immediately following Hurricane Irma. He believed the carpets were wet, causing mold to form. The University ordered the carpets to be cleaned twice, but the moldy smell did not subside according to Balderas.


“I’m taking both asthma medicine and allergy medicine. . . because of this,” Balderas said.


Once Dean of the School of Communication and Media Duane Meeks informed the provost that professors were becoming ill, the university brought in a crew to begin tests immediately according to Balderas. Meeks called an emergency meeting on Nov. 9 at 11 a.m. to announce the evacuation of Pembroke’s first floor.


“We were told it could be anything from a crack in the wall to – did a sewage line crack and sewage somewhere has been spilled?” Balderas said.


After being moved to a temporary office in the Warren Library, Balderas has already noticed a decrease in the frequency of headaches he experiences.


Part of the investigation will involve assessing if the problem has worked its way to the second and third floors of Pembroke Hall. Holes will be knocked in walls within the building until the problem is identified.


"We understand that relocating classes and offices is inconvenient," Associate V.P. for University Relations and Marketing Becky Peeling said. "We thank the students, faculty and staff involved for their flexibility as we evaluate the cause and determine repairs."


At this time, no timeline is available for when the first floor will resume operations. More information from BMS CAT will prompt further instruction.

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