Sheriff's Office staff leave the Operations Center (Courtesy photo)

Sheriff's Office finishes evacuating Operations Center, testing conducted

Employees believe the former hospital building is making them sick. Results from the latest round of testing are due back in July.
By: 
Jun. 19, 2018

Sheriff’s Office deputies and staff members finished evacuating from the Sheriff’s Operations Center on State Road 100 on Friday, June 15, as ongoing testing is conducted on the county-owned building.

The results of the testing on the building — which is owned by the county and had previously been a hospital and sat vacant for years before being renovated for use by the Sheriff’s Office — are expected back by the end of July.

The current testing follows earlier air testing. Initial testing had found evidence of mold, and the county had the building remediated, and then retested. The post-remediation tests came up clean, but employees continued reporting respiratory and other symptoms, and 27 filed worker’s compensation claims for symptoms they believe were related to the building.

Sheriff Rick Staly requested more extensive testing and an evacuation of the building and hired a doctor to review claims and medical reports, according to a Sheriff’s Office news release.

“This profession is dangerous enough from criminals,” Staly said in the news release. “My employees should not have to live in fear of their workplace causing them illnesses. I want to thank the Flagler County administrator, the Board of County Commissioners, the county’s IT staff, Heidi Petito and her staff, and all of the employees of the county and the courthouse for assisting us and welcoming us into our temporary accommodations. We are hopeful for a swift resolution to this issue.”

Staly emailed employees June 18, advising them that the agency’s fitness center and tactical training facility, which is housed in an outbuilding on the grounds of the Operations Center, will also be closed until testing is completed.

The evacuation, which began Monday, June 11, was complete as of 2:30 p.m. Friday, and Staly and his executive staff were the last to leave, according to the Sheriff’s Office news release.

For now, Sheriff’s Office employees are working out of the county courthouse and the Jail Administration Building.

To conduct the latest round of testing, the county retained environmental services firm ESI.

ESI Senior Managing Consultant Zdenek Hejzlar emailed County Engineer Faith Alkhatib a June 18 memo containing an update on the testing, which ESI conducted June 14.

Noting the decision to evacuate employees, Hejzlar wrote, “This conservative approach to protect the health of employees appears to me as a sound approach until we can advance the investigation and find some answers.”

Collection of samples for the testing, Hejzlar wrote, began at 10 a.m. June 14 and ended at 11 p.m the same day. Although all of the testing will be finished by the end of July, the testing for volatile organic compounds is expected earlier, in approximately two weeks.

Staff collected air for lab analysis from five locations in the building, and drilled through the slab in two locations to test for volatile organic compounds beneath the slab. Dust samples were collected for mold analysis in 23 locations in the building, including air filter handlers and spots suggested by Sheriff’s Office employees. Drywall was also tested.

One finding: a leak in the evidence room between a freezer and cooler was “wet and stained with what appeared to be active mold growth,” according to the memo.

In some areas of the building, there was “a light odor” of volatile organic compounds.

The following day, Hejzlar met with Alkhatib and requested records on the building and the materials used in the paint, ceiling tiles, carpet tiles and glue, wall insulation and filters.

He also conducted a perimeter inspection and removed two outlet covers in the building to check the copper wires for corrosion, and found them to be “in excellent condition.”