A much-anticipated report on the air quality of the Sheriff’s Operations Center, evacuated last month out of concerns that the building is sick, concludes that the building “is not adversely impacted with mold,” that no toxic compounds have been detected from the building’s previous use as a hospital, and that there are no concerns over toxic vapors seeping through the floor slab. Only minor changes to housekeeping and air conditioning programming were recommended as the report found that the AC was not removing humidity in sufficient quanities.
“My understanding is that the building is deemed safe to occupy from all the tests we have conducted to date,” County Administrator Craig Coffey said in an email issued with the report by ESi, the engineering firm, just after 5 p.m. today. But Coffey noted: “Without any medical examination by the doctor the Sheriff has made available, it will be difficult to pursue any further testing by County, other than the one additional test planned,” Coffey wrote, referring to one pending radon test. He said he would direct county staff that works out of the building to start moving back in “as soon as possible after July 25.”
Sheriff Rick Staly received the report in the same email batch that Coffey sent out after 5 p.m., and had not yet had a chance to read it when contacted for a reaction shortly afterward. Staly immediately disseminated the report to all his employees. Coffey had told him of the report around 2:30 p.,m., and that it would be forthcoming. Staly was to meet with his staff at 10:30 a.m. Friday to discuss the report.
“As far as the timeline in Mr. Coffey’s email,” Staly said in a brief interview, ” I wish the county administrator would have been more inclusive in discussing this with me before arbitrarily trying to put wheels in motion to again move my people, and as I said in my email to my employees, I have not accepted that time frame nor the report yet. I have not had a chance to look at it.”
“His timeline was scheduled by him without input from me or our team,” Staly said in the email.
Some 67 sheriff’s employees, including the sheriff’s command staff, evacuated to the Flagler County Courthouse and the sheriff’s old operations center on Justice Lane in June after more than two dozen employees had complained of a variety of issues often associated with sick-building syndrome. The county commission is responsible for all county government facilities, including the sheriff’s, so the county contracted for additional testing at the Operations Center — testing was conducted there last year and found minor issues that were ostensibly remediated at the time.
There is urgency on the county’s part, not just because of the sheriff’s workforce being split between two buildings, but because of the August primary election, with the controversy surrounding the Operations Center tightening what could be a noose around the two incumbents running (Greg Hansen and Nate McLaughlin). The administration is hoping to conclude the matter at this month, with employees returning to the building signaling that the issue has been resolved–assuming the political timing matches up with employees’ comfort level. That remains an open question for now.
The County Commission is holding a workshop on the report Monday.
The conclusion that the building was healthy and employees should move back in was at least to a small degree undermined by two conclusions in the report itself: that recent medical histories of employees were not part of the report’s findings, and that, in the report’s words, “ESi was tasked with identification of potential factors that may be contributing to the reported symptoms. The factors could then be used by medical professionals to evaluate individual employees and determine if they were causative. ESi is not qualified to provide medical causative opinions with respect to the affected employees and no part of this report should be construed as such.”
The report further explained it this way: “The EPA term ‘sick building syndrome’ (SBS) is used to describe situations in which building occupants experience acute health and comfort effects that appear to be linked to time spent in a building, but no specific illness or cause can be identified. The complaints may be localized in a particular room or zone or may be widespread throughout the building. In contrast, the term ‘building related illness’ (BRI) is used when symptoms of diagnosable illness are identified and can be attributed directly to airborne building contaminants. The affected employees reported complaints that could be related to SBS. BRI requires medical evaluation of employees. As of the writing of this report, ESi has received no information that would support that BRI has been evaluated or established with respect to the operations center.”
ESi the report states, “did not get access to any medical confirmation of the symptoms as building related illness (BRI) or records to
analyze the information,” though it’s not clear how ESi would have made use of the medical information if, as it acknowledged in a different part of the report, “ESi is not qualified to provide medical causative opinions with respect to the affected employees.” On the other hand, ESi assumed medical information would be conveyed to Dr. Stanley Haimes, the University of Central Florida occupational safety specialist the sheriff hired in light of his employees’ complaints. But employee records have not made it to him.
The report was authored by Zdenek Hejzlar, who goes by Zed, a senior managing consultant at the Fort Myers-based Engineering Systems Inc., after spending one day testing for mold, dust particles and volatile organic compounds at the operations center last month.
Among the Key findings:
“Improved housekeeping and humidity control should be sufficient to return locations of the building that tested with category B levels to Level A – Normal background levels.”
“The results are representative of relatively low mold levels at the sheriff’s operations building. The mold levels in houses and other buildings that are frequented by employees could be significantly higher. ESi has not been provided with any information regarding the employee exposures to mold in these other environments that can comprise up to 2/3 of the time during a day that they do not spend in the building. Potential for those exposures should be considered by medical professionals when evaluating employee symptoms and exposures and when attempting to establish and validate BRI connection to the operations building.”
“There was no evidence that would support the hypothesis that the building materials from the former hospital building contain toxic compounds (heavy metals) that are being released into the indoor environment of the building above normal background levels.”
“The dust levels and different components of dust irritants in houses and other buildings that are frequented by the employees could be significantly higher.”
The full report may be accessed here. The report without attachments is below.