City auditor and clerk had requested a limited air assessment in the building after an employee became ill while looking through documents stored there
A limited air-quality assessment of the City of Sarasota’s Central Records facility found “quite a bit of … suspect microbial growth” on the air conditioning supply vents and a constant influx of warm moist air because of the proximity of a rollup door and a mail slot in a second, standard door in the warehouse where the documents are kept, a consultant told the Sarasota City Commission this week.
Nonetheless, Tonya Erbland, senior environmental scientist with Ardaman & Associates in Tampa — which conducted the analysis — told the board during its regular meeting on Nov. 7 that the firm did not find results “indicative of an air quality microbial concern.”
When Mayor Willie Shaw asked for clarification that the building is safe for city employees, she replied that she does not have a medical or environmental health background, so she recommended the commission provide the Ardaman & Associates report to someone with such qualifications, who could review it and answer his question.
Erbland also told the board that the addition of weather stripping for the rollup door should be considered. In response to a question from Vice Mayor Shelli Freeland Eddie, Erbland said if the rollup door is not used regularly, the board should consider replacing it.
On a unanimous vote, the commissioners called for staff to undertake the remedial measures Ardaman & Associates recommended — including an evaluation of the two heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems in the facility — with any necessary modifications to be undertaken.
City Auditor and Clerk Pam Nadalini had requested the air quality study after an employee in her office “became very ill and had to be hospitalized” after working on three boxes brought to City Hall from Central Records, Nadalini wrote in an Oct. 11 memo to City Manager Tom Barwin.
Such an assessment previously was undertaken in November 2014, she pointed out in the memo, after she raised concerns regarding “significant water intrusion from both the roof and the ground level into the Central Records facility,” which resulted in moldy ceiling tiles in several areas. At that time, she continued, the study was limited to the office. This time, Nadalini requested that the warehouse — where the records are stored — be evaluated as well.
The facility has been a point of contention between Nadalini and commissioners over the past several months. Nadalini has argued that conditions in the city building threaten the paperwork stored there as well as the health of employees who have to go through the documents.
On Sept. 19, Commissioners Susan Chapman and Suzanne Atwell voiced anger that Nadalini had placed an item on the Consent Agenda of routine business items, seeking approval of a lease with Benderson Development for temporary storage of the city’s records. The commissioners agreed they wanted to await the results of a citywide review of departments’ space utilization before deciding on further steps.
The Central Records facility is located at 1761 12th St. in Sarasota. As the Ardaman & Associates report notes, it is “a two-story, pre-engineered metal building.”
Details of the air quality assessment
During her Nov. 7 presentation, Erbland reported that Ardaman & Associates conducted its assessment on Oct. 13. The three boxes that were at the focus of the employee’s illness had been returned to the facility beforehand, she added. Although no mold was found on them, she continued, the team did detect minimal mold growth on the shelf where they had been stored. Therefore, the firm recommended that the city hire a contractor trained in mold abatement to conduct remediation in that section of shelving.
“No obvious water damage or mold or dust” had accumulated on the three boxes in question, Erbland said, though she found “a little bit of dust” on other boxes on shelves.
Two different HVAC systems are used in the building, she noted: one in the warehouse area and the other in the office portion of the structure.
The team did see that the sprinkler system appeared to be leaking, she added, so city staff contacted the appropriate personnel right away to handle that.
A hole also was found in the exterior wall in the area of the fire suppression system, she continued, which allowed warm moist air to enter the HVAC system. The existence of the rollup door and the mail slot in a back door make it very difficult to keep the humidity at an acceptable level, Erbland said. A handheld monitor indicated it was above 60% in all of the records storage areas; that enhances the potential for growth of mold, she added.
“The relative humidity guidelines proposed by the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) are between 30 [and] 60 percent,” the report says.
The team did confirm that “there is no recurrent moisture concern in the building [and] no current water intrusion” or leaks, Erbland noted.
Additionally, the assessment found no sign of “black toxic mold,” which typically is associated with “a consistently wet environment,” Erbland told the board.
Because Erbland had pointed out that the assessment was limited, Vice Mayor Freeland Eddie asked what a full assessment would entail.
That would depend on what the commissioners were looking for, Erbland replied.
After Erbland concluded her presentation, Commissioner Liz Alpert made the motion to direct staff to follow through with the recommendations the firm had made.
Freeland Eddie seconded the motion.