The Centers for Disease Control issued a set of interim recommendations for the Sheriff’s Operations Center that cast doubt on the relevance of recent air testing the county claimed cleared the building for re-use. Instead, the CDC is recommending that some interior dry-wall be removed and the building tested for “water intrusion through the building envelope,” an approach sheriff’s employees and the sheriff have been urging for months.
Further recommendations are expected. But the CDC’s findings, the result of a working visit by a team of CDC scientists, including a physician, and one-on-one meetings with 26 sheriff’s employees who’ve experienced sick-building-like symptoms, for the first time lend independent credence to employees’ claims–and fears–that the building is not currently a safe working space. The sheriff evacuated the building in June.
The interim recommendations also suggest that a solution and an all-clear signal may be months away or longer, with substantial work ahead, and possible further legal wrangles as CDC recommendations clash with an administrative law judge’s order not to alter the building’s interiors.
“There might be the potential for water intrusion through the building envelope, and thus a potential for hidden mold growth,” the CDC concluded. “This potential for hidden mold is consistent with employee reports of musty odors (especially after rains), and health symptoms.”
The CDC’s six interim recommendations focus on water intrusion on the east side of the building and water runoff that may be seeping beneath the building’s foundations, and on interior issues with dehumidifying and ventilation. The recommendations specifically suggest that further resources not be spent on air testing. “Measurements of mold in air are highly variable and dependent on the mold species’ lifecycle stages (e.g., spore formation),” the CDC wrote. “In many cases, very short-term sampling for mold spores is conducted and results may not be representative of actual exposures.”
The federal agency also stressed that any work it is recommending, whether by a building contractor or a ventilation contractor, be done by firms not previously associated with the building–a clear signal to local officials that the work’s effectiveness depends on the credibility and independence of those carrying it out.
The CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health issued its findings in a two-page letter by Alyson R. Johnson, a respiratory health expert in the federal agency’s respiratory health division, dated Oct. 2, to Staly. The county administration and the sheriff’s office released the letter today, forwarding it to the sheriff’s ranks after 5 p.m. after it had been forwarded to Staly by County Administrator Craig Coffey (though the letter was addressed to Staly). It’s not clear why it was not released until today.
“We will do everything within our authority to implement the CDC recommendations,” County Administrator Craig Coffey was quoted as saying in a county release issued just after 5 p.m. “Next week, we will reach out to the Sheriff’s Office to develop a plan.”
The sheriff is a tenant in the possibly-sick building. Building maintenance is the responsibility of county government, whose contracted engineer in July declared the building safe to reoccupy after testing the air for mold and other organisms, recommending changes to the air-handling system and cleaning protocols. That engineer found no issues with water intrusion. Neither the sheriff nor his employees trusted the testing.
The sheriff hired his own consultant to review the county’s findings and also recommended changes to the air-conditioning system and further, extensive air testing–an approach the CDC now says approach places little weight marginalizes the validity or relevance of the sheriff’s expert as well. But Staly was clearly pleased with the CDC’s findings, using the language of vindication when he wrote his ranks of the recommendation for “cutting open some of the interior drywall for inspection for hidden mold; which, as you know I have been publically asking for this to be done since last summer.”
The sheriff’s analyst and the county’s contracted engineer had not spoken with sheriff’s employees before issuing any analysis. The CDC had, a difference that added weight to its report while giving employees’ ailments more official recognition than the county had so far been willing to acknowledge.
“Employees reported skin, eye, respiratory, and systemic symptoms that improved when away from the building.” the CDC reported. “Some also reported symptoms when handling paper documents or files retrieved from the Operations Center. Some employees reported stagnant or stuffy air and musty, mildew, or stale odors. Some employees reported that the air felt sticky in the building. Most health complaints came from occupants in the East side of the building.”
The CDC’s letter and recommendations are below.