Five `serious hazards' reported at courthouse

MOSH says 3 are fixed

2 face Aug. 21 deadline

Howard County

August 01, 2002|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,SUN STAFF

Employees in the Howard County Clerk of the Circuit Court's office are not getting enough fresh air to breathe, state occupational health inspectors have concluded.

A report from Maryland Occupational Safety and Health (MOSH), which was recently sent to Clerk of the Circuit Court Margaret D. Rappaport, says that carbon dioxide levels in her offices in Howard's Circuit courthouse are higher than they should be.

It also notes other factors that might affect the air quality in the historic, 19th-century building - including dead pigeons decomposing on the roof near cooling fans and "mold growth" in the building.

The report lists five "serious hazards," and notes that three have been fixed. Two, both related to the building's electrical system, must be fixed by an Aug. 21 deadline.

Rappaport, whose call to MOSH sparked a top-to-bottom review of the building that began in May, said yesterday that she was disappointed that the report did not say more about what she said are mold growths in her offices and throughout the building. The report notes that there are no occupational health standards for mold.

"This is our third report, and nothing's been accomplished," Rappaport said. An air quality study and an air sampling were performed last year.

The building is "not safe, it's not healthy and it's not clean," she said.

The MOSH report, which is dated July 18, is the first of what is expected to be a series of documents detailing conditions in the building. The Judge Diane O. Leasure, the county's administrative judge, and other department heads said yesterday they had not received their copies of the report.

It is also part of what has become a larger effort to assess the health of the old, cramped structure - and to communicate better with employees who have complained of chronic health problems they blame on the building.

As MOSH officials raised questions over the past three months, county officials tested the building for contaminants. The discovery of asbestos, lead and mercury in parts of the building resulted in additional tests to determine whether the substances have been dispersed through the air.

County officials are planning to conduct more sophisticated air tests tomorrow, said James M. Irvin, the county's public works director. Building employees say they have been told the measurement devices, which will be used during business hours, will sound like lawn mowers.

A county-generated environmental update circulated to employees Tuesday - the second such newsletter distributed throughout the building in the past few weeks - details the testing and also notes the recent creation of a committee of employees who have been asked to act as "liaisons" between courthouse workers and the county.

"I just don't think the information is always as good as it could be," said Deputy State's Attorney Dario Broccolino, one of the liaisons. " ... There's no question they're trying to do it right this time."

The information has caused some concern among employees, though.

Kim Charity, community justice coordinator in the state's attorney's office, was worried enough about revelations about elevated radon levels in an unfinished basement area near the prosecutors' office that she grabbed an alcohol swab to wipe down a computer keyboard yesterday.

"You do worry about contamination," she said.

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