[UPDATED with 2 Closures Sought:] To Flee or Not to Flee, That is the Question as County Workers Say Building Makes Them Sick

UPDATE, FEB. 29, 11:48 A.M.: Facing the Orange County Board of Supervisors Tuesday, an employee union official said there are actually two government buildings workers want closed due to fears the air inside makes them sick.

Fortunately, movers would not have to go far as the buildings are next to one another at 800 and 840 N. Eckoff St., Orange.

Lisa Major, assistant general manager of the Orange County Employees Association, told supervisors the 500 or so workers at the buildings believe the air they breathe there is "toxic" and assurances to the contrary from their superiors are "hollow." The union has sought the closures for eight months, according to Majors, as many workers fear even showing up to their jobs.

But Michael Riley, the Social Services Agency director, countered that air in both buildings has tested within safety guidelines.

The county is conducting additional testing as Riley's agency previously disclosed soil beneath the building at 840 N. Eckoff St. contained traces of tetrachloroethylene--also known as perchloroethylene or "perc"--a chemical the EPA has deemed a "likely human carcinogen." Perc has been tied to birth defects, development problems and negative effects to liver, kidney and nervous system functions.  

ORIGINAL POST, FEB. 28, 12:12 P.M.: A month and a half after a woman wheeled her 9-year-old son into an Orange County Board of Supervisors meeting to allege what other county workers had--a Social Services Agency building made them or their newborns sick--the county acknowledged traces of a toxic chemical were found 10 feet under the structure at 840 N. Eckoff St., Orange.

"Preliminary results of the soil gas sampling found the presence of tetrachloroethylene (also known as perchloroethylene or 'perc') at levels warranting further investigation," reads a statement from TerryLynn Fisher, the agency's spokeswoman.

Commonly used as a de-greaser and by dry cleaners, perc is considered by the EPA to be a "likely human carcinogen" that has been tied to birth defects, development problems and negative effects to liver, kidney and nervous system functions.

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Levels of the chemical discovered beneath the Eckoff building's cement foundation were within EPA guidelines but slightly over stricter California standards, according to the Social Services Agency. Testing will continue to prove or disprove the claims of a dozen current and former county workers who surmise toxins from the soil leeched into the air they breathed inside the building, leading to their health issues.

A judge overseeing a lawsuit filed in 2010 by those workers ordered the testing at Eckoff, which had been an oil rig manufacturing plant before the county acquired the structure and stuck employees there in 1999. Among the plaintiffs is Sarah Kirk, who addressed the Board of Supes last month as her son Gavin sat alongside her in a wheelchair. He was born during the 11 years his mother worked for the county adoption agency inside Eckoff, which also houses the sheriff's department's communications division.

The adoption program will be relocated this week as testing continues, according to Fisher's statement.  "Every effort is being made to determine as quickly as possible what risk, if any, there may be to building occupants," she adds. "SSA executives are maintaining an open line of communication with employees to listen to their concerns and provide answers as quickly as possible. The County of Orange and the Social Services Agency are taking this matter very seriously and will ensure that staff are apprised of updates, as they are available."

However, the Orange County Employees Association wants all 400 workers cleared out of the building pronto, according to a letter Assistant General Manager Lisa Major fired off Monday to Social Services Agency Director Michael Riley.

"Ongoing assurances by the Agency that the building is safe for employees have not been credible and they are now just simply wrong," writes Major, who ends by demanding employees at Eckoff be relocated elsewhere "until, if ever, the site is confirmed to be safe for inhabitants."

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