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"Toxic" O.C. building is safe to occupy, officials say

March 14, 2012 |  7:34 pm

The site of the Orange County building was previously used to manufacture oil drilling equipment.

The latest round of testing of an Orange County government building indicates the structure is safe to occupy, despite earlier tests that showed the presence of a toxic chemical commonly used in dry cleaning, county officials told employees Wednesday.

For two years, the county building that houses Social Service Agency employees has been the source of concern to employees, some of whom filed lawsuits alleging that the air in the building was toxic and had been the source of numerous health problems.

In a letter e-mailed to employees Wednesday, Michael Riley, director of the social services agency, noted that the levels of indoor pollutants were “either below the lowest available health-based screening levels established by the State of California and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, or were within the range of those commonly found in indoor residential and office environments.”

Soil testing in late February had turned up levels of perchloroethylene, also known as perc. The chemical was found in samples five and 10 feet below ground. At 10 feet, the level exceeded California Human Health Screening Levels, but both samples met EPA guidelines.

After the county announced that the chemical was found, the Orange County Employees Assn. issued letters calling for the evacuations of both 800 and 840 N. Eckhoff, claiming that the entire property in the city of Orange could be contaminated--not just the one building.

Further testing was conducted  March 4 in nine different areas of the building under “assumed worst case conditions,” according to a letter prepared by the testing company. According to the letter, additional air sampling will be conducted under “normal operating conditions” along with sampling at a later date to account for “seasonal variation.”

This is being done “out of an abundance of caution,” said TerryLynn Fisher, the public information officer for the Social Services Agency.

Jennifer Muir, the spokeswoman for the employees association, said that the evacuation order stands.

“Given the county’s attitude in the two years since the employees have been asking for testing, employees don’t have a lot of confidence in what the county is telling them,” she said.

Muir added that the county did not allow other parties to observe the testing and the methodology use, and the full report has not been released.

“Meanwhile, we still have employees, some of whom are pregnant, who are fearful and who are asking to be relocated,” she said.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit plan to conduct soil testing.


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Photo: The site of the Orange County building was previously used to manufacture oil drilling equipment. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times