Orange County CEO Tom Mauk, responding to pressure from a county supervisor, workers and labor leaders, said Tuesday that the county would have a controversial building tested for toxic contamination.

Supervisors heard testimony from former Social Services worker Sarah Kirk, who said her severely disabled 10-year-old son suffered birth defects after her exposure to toxins in the so-called Red Room in the building on Eckhoff Street in Orange.

“We are taking it the next level of investigation,” Mauk said. “The next step is soils testing.”

The move is a departure from the county’s two-year reluctance to conduct soils testing on the site. Nearly a dozen social service workers have been fighting the county in workers’ compensation hearings and a Superior Court lawsuit arguing that the Red Room is making them sick.

Workers say the building, which sits on a former industrial site in the midst of an industrial neighborhood, has caused numerous autoimmune disorders, birth defects among the children of pregnant mothers and cancers like myeloma for workers like Luisa Fernandez Vasquez.

Kirk and Fernandez on Tuesday urged county supervisors to act on behalf of employees at the building and authorize toxicity tests.

“Imagine all those people who are still working there and may be getting sick in the future,” Fernandez said.

Bill Campbell, chairman of the Board of Supervisors, joined the call for tests, noting that he had previously thought tests had been conducted.

Mauk told supervisors that previous tests hadn’t shown problems, although the tests did show higher than normal levels of formaldahyde.

And while Mauk wasn’t sure what kind of soils testing is being considered, he did indicate a change in attitude toward the workers who are raising the alarm.

“I think the employee concerns are valid in terms of what they view is there,” Mauk said. “I do have a concern for the concerns of the employees.”

Two separate court hearings on the testing issue are scheduled this month.


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