City officials pledge to clean up courthouse, monitor air quality

February 07, 2002|By Allison Klein | Allison Klein,SUN STAFF

City officials announced yesterday that they will clean up and monitor air quality in the Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. Courthouse in response to employees' concerns the building is making them sick.

A study released last week found that the courthouse poses "no serious health risks" to employees, but that the building's conditions are the likely cause of some health problems.

The study, a survey of courthouse workers, found "more incidents than you would expect" of allergy and upper respiratory conditions, said Dr. Clifford S. Mitchell, assistant professor in the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, who conducted it.

About 60 courthouse employees gathered yesterday at the War Memorial Plaza Building to hear the results of the study. Some angrily asserted that contaminated air and pigeon debris in the Mitchell building has made them ill.

"When are these people going to be able to go to work, do their jobs and go home healthy?" asked Denise Bowles, an occupational safety engineer with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents some courthouse employees.

Susan J. Schuder, chief of safety in the Department of Human Resources, told the group that the city would begin addressing their concerns Monday. The city will monitor air quality, clean dirty vents, remove rodent feces and trash, as well as field employees' health complaints.

While those efforts could help conditions temporarily, the city and state are trying to establish a long-term plan for improving or replacing the Mitchell building, built in 1900, and Courthouse East across Calvert Street, which was built in 1937.

The Maryland Department of General Services is expected to award a contract Feb. 27 to study whether the outdated buildings should be renovated, or a new facility constructed.

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