December 1, 2010
Town Hall air quality vexes Homer officials, staff
5 village employees move out after claiming illnesses from carbon monoxide
Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Village officials are investigating carbon monoxide levels in the Homer Town Hall on North Main Street after five village employees moved out after getting sick, blaming their condition on the gas in the building.
HOMER — Citing concerns about high levels of carbon monoxide in their workspace, five village employees in Homer have moved out of their Town Hall office and relocated down the street.
The employees, including the mayor, moved from the Town Hall on Oct. 26 to the village Recreation Department building at 53 S. Main St.
The employees declined to comment about their concerns.
“We’re at a very early juncture in the investigation,” said Patrick Perfetti, the village attorney.
Perfetti said several village employees had suffered “certain illnesses” resulting from carbon monoxide in the building.
He could not offer specifics about the number of employees or their illnesses, saying that information was confidential.
The town brought in the state Department of Health and contracted Microbac Labs in Polkville to test the air for carbon monoxide.
Perfetti said he had his own set of questions about the tests. One question related to whether the furnace located in the basement near the front of the building had been turned off before the testing. He said he had other questions, but declined to elaborate because he is conducting his own investigation.
Town Supervisor Fred Forbes said the furnace in question was turned on before the Microbac testing but was unhooked for the state testing since it is no longer in use.
The Microbac testing revealed carbon monoxide levels in the basement between 4 and 5 parts per million (ppm), with results peaking around 9 ppm in front of the furnace. The levels upstairs were between zero and 2 ppm. The state tests revealed levels near 1 ppm, said Peter Constantakes, a state Health Department spokesman.
Allowable standards for carbon monoxide vary.
Carbon monoxide levels should not exceed 35 ppm, according to Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards. The Environmental Protection Agency’s National Ambient Air Quality Standard sets the limit at 9 ppm during an eight-hour span or 35 ppm for a one-hour span. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health also sets its recommended exposure limit at 35 ppm for one hour.
Perfetti said he had several ideas about why the village office was being affected by carbon monoxide but said he could not comment on those ideas because the investigation is ongoing.
The Town Hall houses the village mayor, the town and village clerk’s office, the senior center and the town court. The village trustees, the town assessor, code enforcer and supervisor have offices in the building. The move also affects the village department heads who now report to the mayor at the recreation center.
Common symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain, and confusion, according to the Center for Disease Control website. Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas found in combustion fumes produced by cars and trucks, small gasoline engines, lanterns, burning charcoal and wood, stoves, gas ranges and heating systems.
The employees continuing to work in the Town Hall said they had no health problems or concerns.
“Nobody has given us any indication or word that there should be something to be worried about,” said Gary Shiffer, the town justice. “For a while, we didn’t know the village had moved. But I’ve had no problems whatsoever.”
Forbes said the village relocation has not affected the town employees.
“The seniors are still in the building. The judge is still there. Only (the village employees) appeared to have problems, and I can’t speak for them,” Forbes said.
Forbes and other town employees were reluctant to speculate about the village employees’ decision to move down the street.
“Truthfully, all we know is that they had a problem with the building and just moved out,” said John Daniels, the town code enforcement officer. “The town did testing and monitoring, and I really don’t know when they’ll be back. As far as I know, there is nothing wrong with the building.”
No one in the town hall seems to be sure when the village employees will return. Perfetti said he does not have a timeline for the investigation and suspects it could take a few months.
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