County Workers in Court Over Building They Say Is Toxic

A group of Orange County social workers say a county-owned building for child and family services located in an industrial zone has made them sick.

County officials emphatically deny the accusation, with Social Services Director Mike Riley saying the county would never knowingly place the workers in harm’s way. County supervisors meanwhile have largely avoided comment, waiting for the issue to be decided in the courts.

For most of the year, the workers have been trying to coordinate with county officials to have toxic tests performed at the facility and determine who’s right.

Thursday the two sides were heading to court to decide the issue as part of a workers’ compensation suit.

While the Social Services Agency had an industrial hygienist test the air in the facility, attorneys representing social workers like Sarah Kirk say those tests aren’t enough.

Since 2009, they’ve been asking county officials to conduct extensive gas sampling in an area called “the red room” by workers in the building, located 800 N. Eckhoff St.

Workers allege that the room, located on the ground floor of the facility, has triggered a series of autoimmune diseases such as lupus in workers who were stationed there in recent years.

The building, which houses the Social Services Agency Children and Family Division handling adoptions, lies in the midst of an industrial zone near the county public works yard and the Sheriff Department’s communications facility.

According to a series of letters between the county and attorneys representing the workers, county officials have both argued for delays in testing because of workplaces disruption issues and raised concerns about the types of testing sought.

Workers had received a court order last year to facilitate the testing but withdrew it after county officials agreed to cooperate. According to legal correspondence, however, county officials have repeatedly delayed  tests, citing scheduling conflicts and concerns over the scope of testing.