Courthouse passes its air tests

No perilous contaminants are found

exam results for mold are awaited

September 05, 2002|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,SUN STAFF

Air tests at the Howard County Circuit Courthouse came back negative for a series of dangerous contaminants, including lead, mercury and asbestos, county officials said yesterday.

But county officials are awaiting the results of recent mold tests -- and are planning to take more samples, including carpet cuttings, in the coming weeks.

Those tests are expected to be among the last in a county review of the old, cramped building in the wake of employee health complaints and an inspection by state occupational health officials.

"We're down to [the mold], and the overcrowding issue is still there," said James M. Irvin, the county's public works chief.

In a newsletter update to employees this week, county officials detailed the latest results -- no asbestos fibers, no lead and no mercury in air samples collected Aug. 2. The update includes a series of recommendations from the county's environmental contractor, Weston Solutions Inc.

Weston suggests cleaning and abatement in areas where the contaminants were found through wipe samplings, and it suggests limiting access to those areas.

The air tests were conducted after traces of the contaminants, as well as elevated levels of radon, were found in the basement and in some mechanical rooms.

Clerk of the Circuit Court Margaret D. Rappaport, whose inquiry brought inspectors from Maryland Occupational Safety and Health (MOSH) to the building in the spring, said yesterday that even though the most recent tests were good, she is more interested in seeing the mold results.

"That's what my employees are anxiously waiting for," she said. "And the main thing I have is the cleanliness of the building. It's filthy."

Irvin said he hopes to have the mold results within the next several weeks. After that, he said, the county, which he estimated has spent tens of thousands of dollars on testing and repairs on the building, will bring in health experts to answer employee questions.

County officials are also awaiting two other MOSH reports -- one detailing conditions in the courthouse's judicial offices, the other the state's attorney's space.

Early MOSH reports from other offices, including Rappaport's, have turned up electrical problems, which have been fixed, and elevated levels of carbon dioxide, which county officials are working to correct through the heating and air-conditioning system.

The county is also aware of the mold problem and has had roofers repair leaks, Irvin said.

Beyond that, crowding should be alleviated once the state's attorney's offices are moved, possibly by the end of the year, Irvin said. A renovation project is planned for that space.

"It still boils down to the basic problem in the building is overcrowding," he said.

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