County officials are spending about $35,000 to upgrade the air-quality system at the Howard County Circuit Courthouse, where many employees have complained of health problems possibly caused by poor ventilation.
The upgrades, including new filters and vacuum cleaners thatremove fine particles from the air, follow requests from courthouse employees, county officials said.
An informal survey by a courthouse worker found 40 of the building's 150 employees experienced headaches at work. Many also reported sinus problems and eye irritations.
A recent study of the air system by an environmental toxicologist showed that "it is not possible todefinitely state whether the dust and particulate accumulations" arethe cause of the workers' health problems.
But dust and fiberglass particles have been accumulating in the building for the last five years and are "obviously not conducive to acceptable indoor environmental quality," said the report, prepared by Robert Olcerst of Brujos Scientific Inc. of Baltimore.
"The settled dust was found to contain abundant amounts of fine particulate material, fiberglass and organic fibers that could conceivably cause symptoms in sensitive occupants," the report said.
Dust has been steadily accumulating in the building's air sys
tem and condensation ducts, Olcerst said.
Olcerst's study was requested by court reporter Leslie Cale, who said she has suffered from a variety of minor health disorders that appear related to the courthouse's poor air quality.
County Executive Charles I. Ecker agreed to pay for the study with county funds. Olcerst released the study's results earlier this month.
Ecker agreed to the study after several courthouse employees told of respiratory and sinus problems that disappeared on weekends and vacations.
Fred F. Willers, Bureau of Buildings and Grounds county chief, said Cale has not complained since the new measures were instituted.
Despite the concerns, Willers said air quality at the courthouse has been among the best of all county buildings. But he said the new vacuum cleaners are better than the old ones.
In addition, Willers said the lighting tubes will be slowly replaced with tubes that are more like sunlight.
"If an area has no windows, we have replaced the lights, and as the tubes need replacing we will put in the new ones," he said. "The light is a warm type of light that is more like natural light and makes people less grouchy or feel less enclosed."
Staff writer Keith Paul contributed to this story.