An effort by the Mount Airy Police Department to “go green” with the acquisition of a hybrid vehicle has turned sour due to a mold and mildew problem.
After many unsuccessful attempts to rid the vehicle of the accompanying odor, it has persisted and forced the department to divest itself of the 2009 Toyota Prius by way of a trade. The city board of commissioners will formally consider that transaction at a meeting tonight, which involves a nearly even swap for a 2009 Ford Edge to replace the Prius.
“We had it steamed-cleaned by different companies in the city,” Police Chief Dale Watson said in detailing the many steps taken, which he said also included various and sundry home remedies. “We tried everything in the world,” Watson added.
Two new Toyota Prius hybrids were acquired for the police department in early 2009 to much fanfare, representing the first such vehicles to be used by any division of city government. The Prius is a revolutionary automobile that can be propelled by gasoline and/or electrical power.
At the time the two cars were delivered, they were celebrated for their reduced emissions as well as the expectation of using only small amounts of fuel due to most of their power being supplied by a nickel-metal hydride battery. The vehicles were considered especially suited to in-city driving due to the battery generating sufficient power for lower speeds.
The Toyotas were not used for regular patrols, but as support vehicles, including by members of the detective unit, Watson said.
Late last fall, the problem with the mold and mildew became apparent with one of the cars, being noticed by the investigator who was driving that particular Prius.
The problem was traced to the rear compartment of the hatchback model where water was found to be collecting and causing the mold and mildew, which thrives in moist locations.
Watson said it was suspected that a leak might have resulted from the vehicle being struck by a moped at one point, and a manufacturing defect was identified as another possibility. The odor might have been caused by a combination of such factors, the police chief said, calling it a “perfect-storm” situation.
At one point, everything was removed from the rear compartment so it could be resealed, but that still did not correct the moisture-related issues.
“You couldn’t stand to be around it,” Watson said of the car.
There were also concerns about the officer who used the vehicle being exposed to mold and mildew, which are a form of fungus that can facilitate asthma and allergies as well as fatigue. In addition, the smell would collect in one’s clothing after riding in the car, Watson said.
The Prius subsequently was taken off line and now is parked at the city garage on East Pine Street. Meanwhile, no problems have been experienced with the other hybrid and it remains in service, the police chief said.
In a recent memo to the city manager and commissioners, Watson stated that “the only remaining possibility would be to replace the interior, which would be cost-prohibitive.”
While exploring various options, the police department encountered the opportunity to trade the Prius for the Ford Edge of roughly the same value. The Prius is worth $21,926 and the Edge, $21,975. Counting administrative expenses, the net cost of the transaction would be $400, according to the police chief’s memo.
The Mount Airy Board of Commissioners is expected to authorize the trade during a regular meeting today which begins at 7 p.m.
Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or firstname.lastname@example.org.