Whether the Investment Building in Towson is making its workers sick may never definitively be determined, judging from reactions to a pair of studies made public yesterday.
Some Baltimore County and state employees cheered the findings of a National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health survey, saying their long-standing health complaints have been validated.
The federal agency conducted two walk-through inspections in June and interviewed 23 workers who claim their illnesses are linked to conditions inside the 13-floor office building. Its report concluded, in part, that "the self-reported symptom patterns suggested a work-related [causation]."
"Medical interviews suggest building-related asthma in some of the employees," the report said.
Jeff Bigelow, a representative of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 92, said the report "confirms what employee allegations have been for months and months and months. ... You shouldn't have to work in a place that makes it unsafe to breathe."
But top county officials and the building's owners interpreted the federal study differently. They say the findings, along with a survey commissioned by the county that also was released yesterday, show there are no widespread health problems inside the building.
"It's not a sick building," said George G. Perdikakis, director of the county Department of Environmental Protection and Resource Management.
The federal study reinforces what county officials already knew, Perdikakis and other officials said: The Investment Building had been dirty and poorly maintained for years but is not a dangerous place to work.
"We're not aware of any employee that has any illness that is definitively linked to the building," said Dr. Michelle A. Leverett, head of the county Department of Health.
Lee Baylin, an attorney representing building owner A.M.G. Realty Partners of New York, said he was delighted that the federal agency is closing its investigation.
Baltimore County spends more than $1 million a year to rent space inside the Towson building, across from Towson Town Center. Workers have complained for years of uncomfortable temperatures and a variety of health troubles, from coughs and headaches to asthma and rashes.
Concern intensified last October, when a worker inside the building was diagnosed with Legionnaires' disease.
Although the bacteria that cause the potentially fatal disease were found inside the ventilation system, no definitive link was established between the building and the illness.
About 730 county and state workers are assigned to the building.
A.M.G. Realty has undertaken a $3 million window replacement and heating and cooling system upgrade for the 1966 building.
County officials say they are scrutinizing the work. The county will spend $163,000 on an industrial hygienist to monitor renovations, and spent $150 an hour for a medical doctor to survey worker complaints.
Results of a survey by Dr. Shirin deSilva of the Parkview Occupational Health Center in Huntington, Ind., were released yesterday. He received responses from 269 workers, and assumed the remaining 466 employees had no health troubles to report.
As a result, no single health complaint reached the 20 percent threshold set by the World Health Organization to establish sick-building syndrome, deSilva said.
Worker representatives reacted angrily to the finding yesterday.
"This is so slanted, it's not funny," said Marina Eddy, a county computer manager who resigned from her job inside the building because of chronic asthma. "It's bad statistics done for the people who paid for Dr. deSilva's survey."