‘Mold’ re­ported at Ran­chos mart

In­ves­ti­ga­tion un­der­way

The Taos News - - NEWS - By John Miller jmiller@taos­news.com

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

Je­sus Manuel Del­real

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.

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