In early January another round of air testing and the first round of examinations behind walls, ceilings and floors at the evacuated Sheriff’s Operations Center uncovered significant water intrusion below floor tiles, old wood and insulation still in use in the building’s rafters, and bat droppings. The discoveries changed the conversation about the building, dimming prospects that the building would be re-occupied and so damaging the credibility of the county administration, which had insisted that the building had been rebuilt with new materials throughout, that it then-Administrator Craig Coffey resigned days later. But the actual analysis of that round of testing had yet to be released.
On Thursday, it was.
Terracon Consultants, the Olathe, Kansas-based engineering company that conducted what it calls “limited destructive testing,” cutting 36 holes in walls and analyzing 11 tile locations, found “Elevated surface mold counts below floor finishes, at the base of two localized wall areas, within an air handling unit and on older appearing wood observed within an upper wall cavity in the Evidence Room.” The level of mold spores at most tested locations inside were found to be lower than spore levels measured outside with exceptions at two locations in the building (the evidence freezer room and the investigations room at the northeast end of the building), but the finds below tiles was another story.
The building is poorly drained, contributing “to water intrusion through the base of the wall and resulted in moisture and mold growth beneath floor finishes,” the report concluded. “The carpet tiles and adhesive have created a vapor barrier at the top of the slab, causing condensation and mold growth at the backside of the carpet tiles. In addition, similar issues are occurring at the backside of the vinyl floor tiles in the corridor and plastic mats on concrete in the Evidence Reception Room.” Analysis added–a line the Sheriff’s Mark Strobridge highlighted in an email to media, clearly seeing it as something of a smoking gun–“It is Terracon’s opinion that the primary source of odors and resulting employee complaints of skin rashes and upper respiratory issues is related to the stagnant moisture and mold growth on the back side of floor finishes.”
The testing also found the presence of fungi in the southeast corner’s upper wall cavities, where bat droppings were found, fungi associated with the potential for severe pulmonary infections.
Some three dozen sheriff’s employees who worked in the building, including most of its detectives, say they developed health problems before the evacuations. Some employees had developed problems severe enough in late 2017 that they were transferred to other locations, and some of them worked out of their cars. All employees who reported issues filed workers’ compensation claims. The sheriff’s insurance carrier denied them. The employees are pressing their claims through the Office of the Judges of Compensation. (A final hearing is scheduled for March 27.) Their attorneys have also notified the county and the sheriff that they would be suing both agencies for negligence in circuit court. (Road deputies don’t have office space in the building, going in and out for briefings, training and other meetings but spending most of their time on the road.)
The Terracon report is not alarmist. It lays out findings in neutral scientific language and lists recommendations, including on the outside sealing certain areas of the building and digging trenches to eliminate standing water against the building, which has led to water intrusion. The report lists several recommendations inside the building that call for additional and extensive analysis, including more ceiling cuts, evaluation of the floor slab, and contracting with a mold-remediation company to remove the so-called black mold found behind the evidence coolers and the investigation room.
What is notable about those two finds is that a remediation company was hired early last year to do similar work, after an indoor air quality assessment in December found identical problems in two locations–including Room 129, where Terracon located persistent problems.
The Terracon report calls for extensive additional analysis of air samples and floor segments, along with additional examination of wood in overhead rafters and extent of bat droppings, along with six additional wall cuts.
The report doesn’t address the more procedural–or political–question of whether the building may or may not be re-occupied. But what it does address, and the way it addresses it, leaves no doubt that for now, the building cannot be re-occupied, that additional testing and examinations will take time and money–and, most significantly, that employees were not imagining their health problems.
Two more reports are still expected: one from the employees’ attorneys, who hired their own analyst to conduct air testing (and only air testing) inside the building, and a final report from the Centers for Disease Control, whose team visited the facility and met with employees last fall. The Terracon report is below.