Three Flagler County Sheriff’s employees were moved out of the relatively new Sheriff’s Operations Center in Bunnell and a fourth was moved to a different part of the building after they reported chronic, allergy-like health issues that raised concerns about mold or other environmental issues in the building, prompting investigations and clean-ups.
The problem was focused on Room 129 in the operations center, affecting seven employees. The building used to be a hospital. The building sat fallow for years until the county bought it for $1.23 million in 2013, gutted it, renovated it for $5 million, and ceded it to the sheriff as the agency’s new headquarters in September 2015. The sheriff is there as a tenant. The building, which government officials have largely reviewed favorably since, remains the responsibility of county government.
In 2016 the county conducted some clean-up work at the old courthouse in Bunnell, which it also own s and leases to a parochial school.
“We have been working with the Sheriff’s Office and the Health Department to look into any issues raised by a few employees to determine whether anything may be building related vs caused by something else,” the county’s Julie Murphy said in a statement today. “We were made aware of the situation over several weeks ago and addressed the concerns raised immediately. To date we have done testing and remediated any minor issues found and are awaiting final clearance to reopen some spaces. We have provided a copy of the initial report to anyone requesting it and followed all protocols in the remediation including temporarily relocating employees from the affected spaces.”
Some 40 to 45 sheriff’s employees are assigned to the Operations Center, including the sheriff and his top command staff—the undersheriff, division chiefs, various commanders—some 20 detectives, the Crime Scene Investigation unit, human resources, records and support staff.
After employees reported the issues three staffers were given the choice to be relocated out of the building or somewhere else within the building. Three chose to relocate to the old administration building near the current jail.
Three of seven employees who worked in the affected rooms had reported skin rashes. “All three have been to Doctors and the general consensus is that they are experiencing an allergic reaction. The other inhabitants have not had a problem,” a report on the environmental conditions found. The report was written by H2H Air Solutions, a Palm Coast-based home, pool and mold-inspection company operating as H2H Assurance Services since 2011.
“A sergeant who reported a problem told investigators “she did not have a problem before she moved into her office,” according to the report. “She has recently moved out of the space but has not gotten any better. She did have [an] extended period when she went away on a conference for the duration of about a week and got better.” A detective was next to experience a rash about a month after the sergeant did. “She also has a respiratory issue as well,” the report found. Finally, a civilian “also developed a rash and has the problem about 3-4 weeks prior” to being interviewed by investigators.
“It was brought to my attention that we had four employees voicing concerns,” Sheriff Rick Staly said in an interview this afternoon. That was on Nov. 3. “I immediately contacted the county administrator, he immediately took action to determine if there was a problem with the building. That is ongoing.” The administrator is Craig Coffey, the architect of the 2013 deal to buy the former hospital and of its subsequent renovation.
After H2H investigated the building—with analytical help from EMSL Analytical of Cinnaminson, N.J.–two species of mold were detected in the affected area where the employees had worked. One of them was Chaetomium Globosum, a known contaminant of indoor air but at very low concentrations that usually suggests previously-existing moisture issues and that can produce what are called mycotoxins, or toxic substances.
“Mycotoxin testing was not performed but can be to see if its presence is in the room,” the December-dated H2H report states. “Some immune deficient individuals can affected by this mold and or mycotoxin.” Aspergillus Niger, a different kind of mold also known to produce mycotoxins that affect people with compromised immune systems was also found. The fact that it can produce such mycotoxins doesn’t mean that it has.
Other incidental issues were discovered, particularly a deficient air intake into the room where the affected employees worked and one other room, and the air pressure in the building was slightly at variance from what it was supposed to be.
H2H listed several recommendations relating to the air conditioning system, including the “remediation” of Room 129 and the IT room for mold spores, a job later conducted by ServPro. H2H also recommended the “rebalancing” and sanitizing of the building’s air system, cleaning the break room (where bacteria was detected) and other lesser measures.
“H2H recommends that the affected areas be remediated as soon as possible,” the company stated. “If health problems are being experienced, a medical doctor should be consulted concerning occupancy of the premises. During and after remediation, until testing confirms complete remediation, the impacted areas should not be occupied or entered by anyone, except the remediation firm’s representatives. This includes cleaning staff and others who may periodically enter the impacted areas. After remediation is completed and testing shows the impacted areas are safe these areas may be entered and occupied.”
That has not yet happened, with measures still ongoing. ““I know they have a plan that I think is a good plan, and they will be testing the entire building,” Staly said.
“To date we have not found any credible evidence to connect any health issues with the building,” Murphy said in the statement today. “We plan to test the air in the entire building to alleviate any further concerns.”
The county has not yet provided the cost of the analysis and remediation.
As for the relocation of employees. The sheriff said he would “classify it as temporary while the county investigates.”