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Mold relief for hospital hits snag

August 03, 2007|Gregory W. Griggs | Times Staff Writer

Plans to temporarily close St. John's Regional Medical Center in Oxnard this month for mold fumigation may be delayed by state regulators, officials said Thursday.

The state Department of Pesticide Regulation, which oversees the use of chloride dioxide gas that would be used in the fumigation, informed the hospital this week that its emergency request was incomplete. Officials said they need more information about the extent of the mold problem and a detailed explanation of why the proposed eradication plan is the best of all available methods.

"Even if the application comes in today and it's letter perfect, the timing of this project is problematic," said Glenn Brank, a department spokesman.

The 265-bed hospital, which operates the busiest emergency room in Ventura County, submitted additional paperwork to the state Thursday afternoon in an effort to push the process forward. But Brank said it is unlikely his department will issue a ruling early enough to accommodate St. John's proposed timetable.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday August 07, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 36 words Type of Material: Correction
Hospital fumigation: An article in Friday's California section about plans by St. John's Regional Medical Center in Oxnard to fumigate the building misidentified the chemical that will be used. It is chlorine dioxide, not chloride dioxide.

State law requires pesticide regulators to set aside a 30-day period to accept public comment, which won't conclude until Aug. 16, the same day St. John's contractor intends to begin tenting the 365,000-square-foot main hospital building.

Based on the handful of letters received to date, Brank said it is likely that his agency would continue to receive detailed and substantive public comments right up to the deadline. For this reason, he said the department may need a few extra days to complete the review process.

"We can't be held hostage by an artificial deadline, because the legal process has to be fulfilled," Brank said. "We acknowledge that the community has long-term healthcare needs and the hospital has needs, but the immediate issue is public health and that has to be our top priority."

But T. Michael Murray, St. John's chief executive officer, said he hopes the actual mold eradication effort will not be postponed, at least for long.

"If we have to delay the process for a few days, that would not negatively impact the county healthcare system's ability to provide the necessary care."

Before the four-story hospital can close it also must receive approval from the California Department of Public Health, which has been reviewing the hospital's application for more than three months, Murray said. He expects a decision before Wednesday.

Some of those who have filed comments with the state Department of Pesticide Regulation question the safety of using chloride dioxide as a fumigant, saying it is corrosive to metals and is potentially explosive.

Its use as a fumigant has not been tried in California so far, although the federal Environmental Protection Agency has approved chloride dioxide's use to combat mold in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.

EPA spokeswoman Enesta Jones said chlorine dioxide has been approved as a sporicide.

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