‘Mold’ reported at Ranchos mart
For Jesus Manuel Delreal and his family, the convenience store at the Shell gas station near their home in Ranchos de Taos once offered a refreshing break each day.
For two years, they’d stop in, buy a soft drink, sometimes a cup of coffee, and return home.
But about six months ago, they say they started getting sick.
After several visits to medical centers, which confirmed chronic symptoms, such as stomach lesions, swollen throats, head and stomach aches but couldn’t identify a specific cause, a nurse at Holy Cross Hospital asked if mold could be in their home. No, not possible, they said. On another visit to the convenience store Sept. 19, however, Delreal and his wife, Pilar Lopez, wondered if mold could be the source of their symptoms.
That day, Delreal says he over-
heard customers complaining that the soft drink machines were frequently out of order. Some workers at the store mentioned the filtration system as a possible cause of the problem. Delreal said a maintenance worker even recommended the store temporarily close until the problem was resolved.
Curious, Delreal peeked inside a maintenance closet and said he caught a glimpse of the system. Its clear tubing surged with a dark, organic-looking material that made his stomach turn, he said.
He believes it to be “black mold,” a potentially deadly substance, but The Taos News hasn’t confirmed his suspicions yet.
Delreal snapped a few photos
and took a video of the substance undulating inside the tubes. The images have since circulated on Facebook, including Taos Speaks Up Again, setting off a furor among those who have been customers at the store in the past.
“That is simple monthly maintenance and 100 percent avoidable,” said one commenter.
“Mold will damage your brain, cause all kinds of health issues…” said another.
Not everyone is convinced, however.
One dissenting commenter said that water filters rarely look as clean as the day they’re installed.
But without any other apparent explanation for their health problems, of which they agreed to share medical documentation with The Taos News, Delreal says they have already made an appointment with a Dr. Jennifer Smith, a mold
specialist based in Scottsdale, Arizona.
The family has also made reports to the New Mexico Department of Health, the
Centers for Disease Control and the New Mexico Environment Department, which sent an inspector from their epidemiology and response division Sept. 24.
Responding to an inquiry about Delreal’s allegations and the inspection, Environment Department spokesperson Katy Diffendorfer said the inspection didn’t turn up anything suspicious. Delreal, who was there that day, said that’s because the inspector only conducted a visual inspection and didn’t see the water filtration system itself.
Diffendorfer explained that the inspection was conducted only as a “courtesy” after the agency was contacted by the department of health about Delreal’s complaint.
She said the Environment Department only has authority over establishments that serve “hot food,” such as the cooked hot dogs or burritos available at Allsup’s convenience stores throughout the state.
“NMED does not generally inspect the gas station in question as it is not permitted under the Food Service Sanitation
Act because it only sells prepackaged foods,” she wrote in a prepared statement.
“Mold is not a regulated substance federally or at the state level,” Diffendorfer said.
Asked whether the Health Department could confirm that the substance in the filters is mold and not bacteria or some other contaminant, spokesperson Paul Rhien said he did not yet have a clear answer.
He says the state Health Department typically investigates based on the number of people who report having symptoms and if there are other factors that indicate a common cause of an illness, such as patients who attend the same restaurant regularly, or the same church.
Since the September inspection, Delreal said he has learned that maintenance workers at the store have cleaned the system. This week, one worker could be seen replacing an
entire unit located on top of the soda fountain, but a clerk at the counter wouldn’t confirm or deny whether the unit being replaced was the water filtration system.
When reached by phone, the supervisor of the store also declined to comment, referring The Taos News to the store’s corporation, Andeavor.
Scott LaBelle, a media relations representative for the corporation, which is headquartered in San Antonio, Texas and oversees numerous interests throughout the United States, said an investigation is now underway into the allegation of water contamination.
“It is paramount that we ensure the safety of all our customers, and we take any safety-related issues very seriously,” LaBelle said. “An investigation into this matter is underway, and we will take any necessary remedial actions based on our findings.”
‘Mold is not a regulated substance federally or at the state level.’
— Katy Diffendorfer
Andeavor, the corporation that owns the Shell gas station convenience store near Highway 518 in Ranchos de Taos has launched an investigation into possible contamination inside water filters at the store.