February 26, 2010

Courthouse hazardous to health?

Courthouse hazardous to health?
Safety questioned after employees become ill

The public often criticizes government for being slow to react.
Not so with a recent situation that developed in McLean County.
This past Friday, county officials heard news that could ultimately label the McLean County Courthouse as a serious health hazard.
Last year, after a courthouse employee became seriously ill, the individual was diagnosed at Mayo Clinic with an affliction called histoplasmosis infection. The condition caused by airborne spores that are linked to bat excrement can be serious and can be life threatening.
Even though county officials suspected that bat droppings in the courthouse could have caused the employee’s illness, they were unable to confirm that the courthouse bat infestation had been to blame.
At the time, the solution seemed to be removal of the bats, cleaning the areas of concern and sealing the attic area and roof to prevent further bat infestation.
This past Friday, Mayo Clinic confirmed that another courthouse employee is infected with histoplasmosis.
The news prompted quick action on the part of McLean County officials. On Monday, McLean County States Attorney Ladd Erickson, County Auditor Les Korgel and commissioners Steve Lee, Julie-Hudson Schenfisch and Ron Krebsbach shared their concerns with the Garrison Chamber of Commerce’s Governmental Affairs Committee.
“We’ve got a very serious problem that has developed in the county,” Erickson said. “Serious decisions will have to be made.”
Without identifying the employees who had become ill, Erickson alluded to the seriousness of their infections. He said the condition had resulted in cysts that have developed on the individuals’ hearts and lungs. He said one individual had developed lung cysts that were as large as golf balls and pressed against the spinal column. In both cases, doctors at the Mayo Clinic attributed the infections to bat feces.
“We’ve had a historical bat problem in the courthouse,” Erickson said. Even though the air quality has been monitored through periodic air samples to test for airborne contamination, he said the situation remains “tricky.”
At the heart of the problem, he said, is the design of the original courthouse building. Using a rough sketch of the courthouse and of its wall structure, Erickson pointed out issues that prevent eradication of the bat feces. Erickson said the building is constructed of wood and that its massive wall structure (exterior walls are two feet thick at the base and taper upward) contains several materials that include wood, plaster, clay tiles and brick. He said the various materials respond independently to environmental factors such as heat, cold and moisture. He added, “The problem is with the design of the building.”

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