Though “severe mold contamination” was detected at Rockville Centre’s police headquarters in April, according to a report from Clean Air Testing Labs Inc., village officials say the building is safe to work in while they plan mitigation and relocation.
“The levels of contamination and the species that were detected can be life-threatening,” the report stated. The building, at 34 Maple Ave., was tested in March after a company handling a sewage backup in the basement discovered some mold, according to Police Commissioner James Vafeades.
Baldwin-based Clean Air Testing Labs tested the basement, and then the entire building, in April, at Vafeades’s suggestion. “There is currently very little airborne mold spore contamination in this facility,” the report states.
“. . . There is without a doubt large scale mold contamination through this building,” it adds, noting the basement, north wall, mechanical room and underneath each windowsill.
The report recommends that the building be closed during abatement, which is necessary to “create a safe working environment.”
“It’s minor, but it’s not abnormal,” Vafeades said. “The danger’s in the walls.” He said the building should be evacuated only during remediation. “If they said we had to be out tomorrow, we would have been out, but they gave us no indication that we have to be out.”
Clean Air Testing Labs had not returned the Herald’s calls seeking comment at press time Tuesday.
The mold detected, according to the report, includes the toxigenic species Stachybotrys, often called black mold, which can cause neurological and respiratory conditions.
Village spokeswoman Julie Scully emphasized that there is only “little” airborne mold spore contamination, and said officials have begun relocating people.
“We are in the process of evaluating all of our options for the future of our police headquarters that will minimize the financial burden to taxpayers and keep our employees healthy and safe,” she said.
The village is still deciding whether to rent space, construct a separate building or demolish the existing headquarters. The original plan was to erect a new building, a $3.5 million project, but the cost turned out higher than expected, Scully said.
She added that the village is looking for the “most feasible thing to do” that lasts the longest and is best for the police and neighborhood.
Rockville Centre Police Benevolent Association President Jim Carty, who works at the headquarters, said the village is “moving as fast as they can,” and that he is monitoring the situation.
“It was supposed to be already done by now, but there was some sort of delay due to money, so now we’re just stuck here,” Carty said. “We were supposed to be out by now.” He added that some people are experiencing allergic reactions.
Carty said that only the police aides have moved to the John A. Anderson Recreation Center because their office, by the north wall on the second floor, was the “worst.” Regarding those still stationed at the facility, he said, “We’re just waiting to get out.”
Some of the roughly 100 employees at the facility, who wished to remain anonymous, told the Herald that they are upset by the situation and concerned for their health. “This has been building up,” said one woman, adding that she had noticed leaks around the building for months and eventually spotted mold in several areas.
In March, she and several coworkers became ill, she said, with flu-like symptoms. “Was it related? I don’t know, but it was suspicious,” she added.
She said her coworkers who spend the most time in the building experience headaches, sinusitis, itchy and watery eyes, runny noses and coughing, yet department heads advised against their getting tested for exposure. Three other employees reported similar ailments.
When management was informed, she said, the workers’ concerns were “shrugged off.” “It’s always very clouded,” the woman said, adding that officials would say they were working on it and tell employees not to worry because the mold is not airborne.
Officials said that no employee has reported being ill. “The safety and health of our employees is a top priority for this administration,” Scully said.
“Before the report, people got sick,” Vafeades said. “. . . Now, people are attributing that to the mold.
“Somebody is making this out to be an unsafe environment, and it’s not,” he added. “. . . We’ve done everything we can do.”
The employee, who claimed the building did not have air conditioning this summer, said it is an uncomfortable environment, and that there were no meetings about the issue, just informal conversations in the hallways.
“We have no idea what to do or where to get answers,” she said.
Another worker in the building claimed there was a meeting at Village Hall with Clean Air Testing Labs, at which the company recommended relocation before the summer because humidity breeds more mold.
Scully said she believed the employees were briefed on the situation, and that Clean Air Testing Labs did not recommend evacuating the building before the summer. New air conditioning units were installed in windows throughout the building before the summer began, Vafeades said.
An inspector from the state Department of Labor and the Public Employee Safety and Health Bureau visited the headquarters on Monday, Vafeades said, after an anonymous online complaint was filed about mold and active sewage leaks in the building.
In an email from Vafeades to employees on Monday, obtained by the Herald, he noted that the inspector reported that the building was currently safe to work in, and that no evidence of a sewage leak could be found. The only violation was a stain on the ceiling from a faulty vent, which he said would be replaced.
“Thanks to the anonymous complaint and subsequent inspection, we can have the confidence to continue working in a safe environment,” Vafeades wrote, “and the village can take a more patient approach until a permanent resolution can occur.”