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Mold at Al Udeid Air Base Was Preventable: IG Report

Airmen from the 379th Expeditionary Maintenance Group salute the U.S. flag during a ceremony at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar. Members of the unit reported sickness caused by mold on the base. (US Air Force photo/Kia Atkins)
Airmen from the 379th Expeditionary Maintenance Group salute the U.S. flag during a ceremony at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar. Members of the unit reported sickness caused by mold on the base. (US Air Force photo/Kia Atkins)

Service members living at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, might not have been plagued by mold in bathrooms, common living spaces and poorly ventilated rooms if the base had more carefully observed serious water damage in facilities, according to a Defense Department Inspector General report.

Furthermore, the issue is still not being properly handled, the report said.

"We documented 13 indoor air quality deficiencies," states the report, titled U.S. Military-Occupied Facilities Evaluation -- Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar. The inspector general's office completed an onsite evaluation between May 14 and May 25.

"The deficiencies were related to water intrusion, mold, and ventilation. These deficiencies may negatively impact the health and quality of life of the facility occupants," the report said.

Airmen living at the base -- which houses 10,000 service members stationed in the region for the war against the Islamic State, among other counterterrorism operations -- came forward throughout the latter part of 2015 and early 2016 saying the abundance of mold may have been getting them sick.

The complaints prompted a congressional inquiry, along with corrective actions from the base's 379th Air Expeditionary Wing commander.

The IG also evaluated electrical systems, fire protection systems and inactive fuel systems. The report counted 253 deficiencies that could affect the health, safety and well-being of DoD personnel, with the majority of problems found in electrical systems.

The IG report found that water damage responsible for the mold should have been "stopped within 24-48 hours of the initial intrusion," in compliance with the "Interim Policy and Guidance for the Prevention, Surveillance, and Remediation of Water Damage and Associated Mold Contamination in Air Force Facilities," signed in 2005.

"These indoor air quality deficiencies could have been avoided with stricter adherence to the [policy]," the report states. "These deficiencies resulted in poor indoor air quality that may negatively impact the health and quality of life of AUAB personnel."

The IG report did not disclose whether the mold, described as black in color, was indeed "black mold." Black mold could be detrimental to individuals who have immunosuppressed conditions or respiratory problems.

Following media reports on the issue last year, leaders pledged to resolve the issue in an urgent manner.

"Let me apologize for the current state of some of our facilities," Brig. Gen. Darren V. James, 379th commander, said at the time. He is now vice commander, 18th Air Force, at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois.

"I know some of the Cadillacs are in rough condition and the coalition compound trailers are past their expected lifespan," James said in a Facebook post. The bathroom units at the base are referred to as the Cadillacs.

"Complicating things further, the moist environment here is conducive to mold growth. Let me state it clearly, the responsibility for these tired facilities rests squarely on my shoulders," James said.

As a result, the base ordered air conditioning units, and dispatched civil engineering units to clean up the mold growth and fix the water-damaged areas.

By June 2016, airmen from the 379th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron's heating, ventilation and air conditioning team had responded to 7,000 maintenance repair orders and worked on 950 facilities in need of air conditioning repair, including installation of personal AC units in various living quarters.

Yet the report states more work is needed beyond basic, regimented cleaning, and recommends that Brig. Gen. Jason R. Armagost, the current 379th commander, "conduct a root cause analysis and implement a corrective action plan for all indoor air quality deficiencies identified in this report."

"The commander did not address the recommendation to determine the cause of the water

intrusion and the poor air quality in the facilities and correct the related deficiencies," the report states. "The commander stated that there is no active roof inspection program, but he did not confirm that roof infiltration is the only contributor to indoor air quality problems. Therefore, these two recommendations are unresolved."

Armagost should ensure all current and future facility operations and maintenance comply with the 2005 policy, it said.

The DoDIG's office is requesting a copy of the analysis and plan by Jan. 14.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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