West Tisbury employees report respiratory problems after working in old library
Symptoms associated with sick building syndrome may be alleviated by removal of asbestos insulation under floor of the former library, now the town hall annex. Photo by Ralph Stewart
Three West Tisbury town employees are waiting to see if removal of asbestos insulation under the town hall annex on Music Street will help relieve symptoms of what may be sick building syndrome.
Health agent John Powers and building inspector Ernie Mendenhall reported to the selectmen last Wednesday that they and the administrative assistant in the building have had persistent upper respiratory problems for some time. He said some townspeople who have entered the building also noticed problems and asked to conduct business elsewhere. The two departments have been in the building, which is rented from the Preservation Trust, since August, but the respiratory problems started to increase when the weather got colder and they began closing windows. Mr. Powers said the employees also noticed a spike in their physical ailments after cleaning people vacuumed the building.
The men said they suspect the particles that cause the symptoms are airborne mold spores. Mr. Mendenhall said he had noticed extensive mold and dampness when he went under the building to do electrical work. The insulation was installed initially to protect electrical and computer wires.
A noticeably hoarse Mr. Powers, who is being treated for the conditions, said a survey by the Preservation Trust found elevated particulates at certain times of day in the building. The trust took advice to remove the insulation in the crawl space under the building, which was to be done last Thursday.
"We don't know if this is going to take care of the problem, but we are asking permission to move back to the town hall if this doesn't take care of it," Mr. Powers said. He said the departments could move downstairs in the town hall, but added they would make every effort to stay in the annex.
The selectmen asked if the three employees would stay in the annex until Jan. 3 and report the outcome of the remedy to the selectmen then. Selectmen chairman John Early, who is a builder, said there are new materials that could be used in the crawl space.