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Judge near death - Mold in courthouse
Wednesday, 01 August 2001

Test results prove dangerous mold in Bexar County Courthouse 
According to one county judge, it's mold that nearly cost her life. "When I first started getting sick, they were remodeling this courtroom," said County Court at Law No. 3 Judge Shay Gebhardt.

KENS 5 Eyewitness News
Test results prove dangerous mold
in Bexar County Courthouse

By Brandy Ralston
KENS 5 Eyewitness News

Web Posted : 08/01/2001 6:00 PM

It's a place where more than 500,000 people pass through each year.


 Samples taken from under a mail room cabinet (top) and some tiled areas were sent to Texas Tech University to be analyzed. Results confirmed the mold is stachybotrus.
KENS Photos

Further coverage
Mold a growing concern

KENS 5 Video
Judge's complaints

However, something in the Bexar County Courthouse could be making people sick.

According to one county judge, it's mold that nearly cost her life.

"When I first started getting sick, they were remodeling this courtroom," said County Court at Law No. 3 Judge Shay Gebhardt.

"So, they moved me downstairs into the basement."

Hidden below the steps of one of San Antonio's most historic buildings lies the heart of the Bexar County Courthouse, the basement.

"The basement is a deadly place in this courthouse," Gebhardt said.

The basement is home to a few courtrooms, a mailroom and the vital statistics area, which houses marriage and death records, among other files.

Gebhardt said it also houses something that made her sick.

About six years ago, Gebhardt was working out of a basement office when she first developed the symptoms of what she thought was a common cold.

"Finally it got to the point when I could not drive a car, I could not stay awake. I was sleeping 24 hours a day. I could not wake up," she recalled.

Doctors say the judge was slowly slipping into a coma.

Samples from various areas in the basement were taken and sent to a Texas Tech University lab in Lubbock. The lab tests confirmed the mold is stachybotrus.

Stachybotrus (pronounced stacky botris) is a greenish-black, slimy mold that thrives on water and construction materials.

Along with minor symptoms attributed to most molds, such as runny noses, sneezing and allergy-like symptoms, stachybotrus also is believed to produce toxins that can cause memory or mood changes, or flu-like reactions such as fatigue, sore throats and headaches.

"It's in the walls, it's in the floors, the furniture, it's everywhere," Gebhardt said.

While some researchers have been skeptical, others, however, have linked stachybotrus to asthma, as well as sick-building and chronic-fatigue syndromes, like Gebhardt?s.

The mold began getting national attention in 1997 after researchers in Cleveland linked it to serious and occasionally fatal lung bleeding in 21 infants who lived in inner-city homes with water damage from flooding or plumbing leaks.

Dr. David Straus, a stachybotrus expert at Texas Tech, said while it may appear to be only in certain rooms, the mold releases spores that can spread quickly.

"Any amount of stachybotrus growing in a building concerns us," he said.

The results were taken to Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff.

"It certainly concerns me," the new county judge said as he toured the basement where samples were taken.

Many believe the mold may have moved in after one of many basement floods.

Wolff said he plans to move anyone who is currently having problems out of the basement.

He also plans to call in a professional company to find out the extent of the problem.

Gebhardt, who now offices on the 1st floor, hopes to have the problem fixed before more people get sick.

"You pray to God you will go into remission and you will stay in remission, but there's no guarantee and there's no cure."

08/01/2001

 
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