County officials have begun to look into an oil drilling company, the previous owner of a controversial Social Services Agency building in Orange that workers say is making them sick.

On Monday, county officials announced that under the building they had discovered chemicals that are likely carcinogens and are conducting further tests at the site.

The initial testing came after a group of employees filed suit against the county, saying that toxic fumes in the building have been the cause of a variety of illnesses among the workers, including cancer and autoimmune disorders.

During Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, Supervisor Shawn Nelson asked CEO Tom Mauk about the ownership of the site. “We also have begun to research the prior owner,” Mauk said.

While testing continues this week, officials are moving to evacuate hundreds of social workers from the site.

On Tuesday, Lisa Major, assistant general manager of the Orange County Employees Association, publicly thanked Mauk for taking the rare step of ignoring his department heads and lawyers and ordering testing of the building, which was conducted last weekend.

“Thank you for acting on behalf of the employees and the public when the agency would not,” Major said.

Social Services Director Michael Riley said Tuesday he was “surprised” that tests found toxic materials beneath the building site but took issue with the union’s assertions that his agency has not taken care of its employees.

“We’re trying to make sure our actions are measured,” Riley said. “Panic is never a good strategy.”

Riley reiterated that “it is paramount to me that our staff is safe.”

Riley is now in the process of moving more than 75 adoption workers from the building on 840 N. Eckhoff Street to an adjacent building, 800 Eckhoff Street.

Yet many workers are already saying that simply being moved next door is not enough.

“We respectfully ask that 800 and 840 be evacuated and closed,” Major told supervisors. “We know that 800 and 840 were at one time one building. … There remains a risk for exposure at both sites.”

Riley, however, said he’s sticking with his plan for now. “I know there are concerns, but for right now, that’s what we have,” he said.

Mauk told county supervisors Tuesday that the building is now “a high priority.”

“We’re going to take another week to do additional testing, then we’ll make a decision on what to do with the building.”


Since you've made it this far,

You are obviously connected to your community and value good journalism. As an independent and local nonprofit, our news is accessible to all, regardless of what they can afford. Our newsroom centers on Orange County’s civic and cultural life, not ad-driven clickbait. Our reporters hold powerful interests accountable to protect your quality of life. But it’s not free to produce. It depends on donors like you.

Join the conversation: In lieu of comments, we encourage readers to engage with us across a variety of mediums. Join our Facebook discussion. Message us via our website or staff page. Send us a secure tip. Share your thoughts in a community opinion piece.