Two Forsyth County Sheriff’s buildings have been vacated and a third facility faces the same prospect following several employee reports of illness.
Sheriff Ted Paxton said the Crime Scene Investigation building and the Criminal Investigations Division annex on Veterans Memorial Boulevard have been empty for about two weeks.
Paxton said he ordered employees to relocate to the north and south precinct buildings after a doctor identified symptoms of "sick building syndrome" in several employees that worked there.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Web site, the term is used to describe "situations in which building occupants experience acute health and comfort effects that appear to be linked to time spent in a building, but no specific illness or cause can be identified.”
The site goes on to say that the illness can be caused by inadequate ventilation, chemical contaminants from indoor and outdoor sources and biological contaminants.
Symptoms include headache, eye, nose or throat irritation, dry cough, dry or itchy skin, dizziness and nausea. The site also shows that most patients who complain of such symptoms feel relief soon after leaving the building.
Paxton said Friday the Criminal Investigations Division main office, which is between the other two buildings, will also have to be abandoned.
“We the have revelation now of an employee who, by the same doctor, has been ordered not to go back in that building or the other two,” Paxton said.
“If that building is not safe for that employee, the inference is it’s not safe for anyone to be in there.”
Paxton said county officials have been responsive to the problem.
Interim County Manager Doug Derrer said the county has been working with the sheriff’s office to identify any potential health hazards in the buildings.
“Third party vendors have conducted a variety of air and materials testing to determine if there exists any correlation between the reported concerns and building conditions,” Derrer said.
“Although establishing that has not been confirmed, staff has vacated some of the office space in question out of an abundance of caution and in the best interest of the employees.”
Paxton said he plans to meet with Derrer and other county officials Monday to discuss the issue as well as options for relocating employees in the main CID building.
He said the problem has not only affected his employees’ health and well-being, but their work as well.
“Bottom line is that’s our crime lab and right now we’re kind of suspended ... we can’t process evidence,” Paxton said.
He said forensic evaluations used for prosecuting cases are “in a state of suspension because we don’t have any facility available to us to conduct that work.”
Paxton said concerns he has had about the buildings, which date to the 1950s and '60s, have come to fruition.
He said ventilation and water leakage issues, identified before anyone got sick, could be the problem. The buildings also contain asbestos, however, it is not clear if that's a contributing factor.
“We just don’t know right yet,” Paxton said. “But the general accepted professional standard is if a building has asbestos in it, typically it’s not going to be a problem unless the asbestos is disturbed.”
The problems come on the heels of November's failed bond questions. Voters rejected a $16 million bond, with a 20-year-repayment schedule, that would have paid for a new 51,000-square-foot sheriff’s headquarters.
Voters also rejected a plan to build a 226,000-square-foot jail with 480 beds through a $75 million bond. It was the fourth time in eight years that a proposal to build a new detention center has failed.
The dilapidated state of the buildings is one of many factors Paxton has cited in pushing for the new facilities.
“It’s not new," he said. "It’s something that’s certainly been identified in the past as being an issue. I think what’s happened here is we’ve come to the end of the road, so to speak.”