Come clean on the Courthouse

By Jayson Jacoby / The Baker City Herald

Somebody needs to come clean about the dirty air in the basement of the Baker County Courthouse.

In particular, somebody needs to tell us - the public who own the building, and the employees and contractors who work there - in specific, plain English what was found in air samples taken in the basement on Dec. 20, and what, if any, are the potential health hazards.

It was those two samples which prompted the county to close the basement when test results came in Dec. 23.

The basement remains off-limits, which is appropriate.

But what's not clear is whether anyone who spent time there between

Thanksgiving weekend, when two water pipe valves froze and burst, and

Dec. 23 might have been exposed to unhealthy air.

Fred Warner Jr., chairman of the Baker County Board of Commissioners,

told us this morning that he first saw test results on Monday.

One sample taken in the basement hallway was "moderate" and one taken

in the vault area had a "high likelihood of mold growth," Warner said.

(All other samples taken elsewhere in the Courthouse, and one taken outside the building, were clean, he said.)

But Warner said the reports he read don't explain what type of mold was

present, or whether it is a kind known to be a potential health hazard.

Dave Johnson, the Athena contractor who collected the air samples and,

presumably, could assess any possible health risks, said he would

discuss test results if given permission by Busy Bee Cleaning, the

company hired to dry the Courthouse.

Spencer said the county's insurance company, City/County Insurance Services of Salem, owns the test results.

Meanwhile, David Ford, who works for City/County Insurance, says "there

is no concern" based on air quality. Ford also said, in apparent

contradiction to the county's Dec. 23 decision to close the basement,

that employees could work there for prolonged periods if necessary.

Fortunately that's not necessary, because employees who worked in the basement have moved to North Baker School.

Also fortunately, no employees had worked full-time in the basement between Thanksgiving weekend and Dec. 23.

Yet both employees and contractors did occasionally go into the basement between the holiday and Dec. 23.

They deserve to know what was in the air they breathed, or what might have been.

If, as Ford said, there's no reason for concern, then there's also no

reason for the insurance firm not to give county officials, and the

public, a full airing of the situation in the basement.

13109069
The Baker City Herald
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