Commissioners address air quality concerns at courthouse – news – republican herald

Radon mitigation will be done at the Schuylkill County Courthouse.

The county commissioners approved a contract Wednesday with Air Care & Restoration Co. Inc., Bethlehem, for the services. It will cost $57,850.

The company tested for radon earlier in February and worked with Next Step Environmental Services, a state-licensed radon abatement company in Barto, to submit the mitigation proposal that was approved Wednesday. Next Step Environmental Services is being subcontracted for the work, which will start in about two weeks.

Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas produced by the breakdown of uranium in soil or rock, according to the Centers for Disease Control website at www. cdc. gov. It is a colorless, odorless, tasteless gas to which people are always exposed, as it comes from the earth. Radioactive particles from radon gas can become trapped in lungs which, over time, increases the risk of lung cancer.

Radon levels deemed to require action vary greatly by agency. The U. S. Environmental Protection Agency suggests action at 4.0 picocuries per liter, while the Occupational Safety and Health Administration uses 25 pCi/L. The average results in the courthouse were greater than 4.0 pCi/L and reached as high as 9.6 pCi/L.

Commissioners Chairman George F. Halcovage Jr. said the board has also asked Keith Roe, president of Air Care & Restoration Co. Inc., to check into concerns of mold from row officers. The last air quality test at the courthouse was done in 2009 by Roe. Halcovage said Roe will also mitigate the mold if necessary.

“I do have some concerns that a report came in and there was a recommendation that radon testing be done and it wasn’t done until Sheriff (Joseph G.) Groody started the ball rolling,” Clerk of Courts Maria Casey said Wednesday after the meeting.

Groody has brought up the topic of air quality at the courthouse for discussion at recent county safety committee meetings. He said Wednesday that he was concerned with the number of people getting sick in his office over the years.

“I think we are in double digits of people getting serious illnesses,” Groody said. “There is no doubt in my mind there is a problem.”

His office collected mold in a petri dish two weeks ago.

According to the CDC, some people are sensitive to molds and exposure can cause symptoms such as nasal stuffiness, eye irritation, wheezing or skin irritation. Those with serious allergies to molds may have more severe reactions, including fever and shortness of breath. Those with chronic lung illnesses, such as obstructive lung disease, may develop mold infections in their lungs.

Casey said that she had requested the results of the 2009 study weeks ago along with a list of the remediations done. She was still waiting on the latter.

“What was done to address their air quality concerns?” Casey said.

Martina Chwastiak, the county’s risk manager, said the actions recommended by Roe at that time were taken at the courthouse. She compiled a report with Bill Liptok, director of public works, and Roe, that went over the air testing results and recommendations. It said there was “no physical evidence or air quality issues during the testing period” which lasted about two months.

“The bottom line to that report was that it was determined we do not have sick building syndrome here,” Chwastiak said Wednesday. “There are no levels that would make people sick.”

Sick building syndrome is a condition affecting office workers, typically marked by headaches and respiratory problems, attributed to unhealthy or stressful factors in the working environment such as poor ventilation, according to the CDC.

Recommendations listed in her report from Roe mainly listed sanitation methods like using anti-microbial and anti-fungal cleaning agents and cleaning air vents every three years.

“I have staff who come to me and they are concerned for their physical health,” Casey said. “These are questions I need to ask to protect the people in my office.”

“We are all about employee safety,” Halcovage said.

Commissioner Frank J. Staudenmeier, who was there when the 2009 air quality study was done, said the board asked Roe at that time if any of the employees had to be moved and he assured them no.

“The bottom line here is that your concerns are our concerns,” Staudenmeier said.

In other news, the commissioners approved a contract TKO Cleaning Services LLC, Pottsville, for cleaning the Human Services Complex at 410-420 N. Centre St., Pottsville. The company submitted the only bid. The agreement is for $64,800 over three years.

The county has also applied for a grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to add a pavilion, flush restrooms and a playground at Sweet Arrow Lake County Park, Pine Grove, and grading and resurfacing at the waterfall parking lot. The grant is for $250,300 with a 50 percent local match. The Friends of Schuylkill Parks and Recreation have pledged $100,000 while the remaining $150,300 would be provided by the county.

In a special prison board meeting, the board voted to recommend a conditional offer for the vacant lieutenant position to Tom Forte, Rush Township.