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    Post: Buffalo Police District D mold exposure

    Posted by toxsickniagara on 3/18/10

    Cover Story What's Black & Blue and All Covered Up?
    by Buck Quigley

    Sick cops get brush off from the city
    When some police officers were talking among themselves at
    Buffalo’s D District last year, conversation turned to the
    number of people getting sick at work. Soon, they started
    ticking off names of co-workers who’d become ill with
    things ranging from bronchitis to cancer. They quickly
    arrived at more than a dozen names—roughly 10 percent of
    the people who worked there.

    It seemed like a lot of people. So many, in fact, that a
    few of the officers began to suspect that it might have
    something to do with their place of work. For years, the D,
    or Delta, District was housed in a single-story brick
    building at 669 Hertel Avenue, just west of Elmwood. Might
    those discolored ceiling tiles be a telltale sign of
    something more sinister than condensation or a leaky roof?
    What about that water in the basement that at times could
    reach a depth of a few feet?

    On January 14, an anonymous officer filed a complaint
    through the Public Employee Safety and Health Bureau (PESH)
    of the New York State Department of Labor, asking the
    agency to look into possible problems at the worksite. (The
    complaint forms include a section for the filer to request
    that his or her identity be withheld from his or her
    employer, due to the fact that reprisal from the boss is a
    real threat whistleblowers face.)

    In response, the City of Buffalo contacted Leader
    Professional Services, Inc., a company the city keeps on
    retainer to perform environmental assessments. On January
    29, David Hornung in the city’s Division of Public Works
    spoke on the phone with Keith Keller of Leader, and they
    ironed out the scope of the testing—which locations in the
    building were to be tested, and what they would be testing

    On February 1, Leader submitted its proposal/contract. On
    February 9, Keller arrived at the station and did a walk-
    through with Hornung to identify sampling locations. He
    then began the testing, but not before noting that another
    contractor, Indoor Air Pro, was there also. Indoor Air Pro
    had been cleaning out the air ducts—before the air quality
    samples were taken.

    “What happened was we filed a complaint with the city about
    the condition of the building,” says Lt. Sean O’Brien, who
    chairs the Health and Safety Committee of the Buffalo
    Police Benevolent Association. “And what they immediately
    did was hire Indoor Air Professionals to go out and clean
    the ducts. Indoor Air are the ones who told them: ‘You’ve
    got a problem here with mold.’ The air vents were totally

    On Friday, February 12, based on preliminary findings,
    officers at D District were told they were being moved out
    of the building. “The main issues were mold in the walls
    and ceiling,”O’Brien says. “They said the testing would
    take two to four weeks. Then I was told by city attorney
    Diane O’Gorman that all information pertaining to D
    District on the subject of mold would not be subject to
    Freedom of Information legislation because it’s a pending

    Independent (and unauthorized) testing
    Because there’s no great trust between the police union and
    the Brown administration, the PBA contacted Great Lakes
    Environmental & Safety Consultants, Inc., and scheduled a
    study of their own to take place in the building at 11am on
    February 24. The PBA sent a letter to interim police
    commissioner Daniel Derenda notifying him of this
    appointment, and received a two-line fax back on the same
    day from the city’s interim corporation counsel, David
    Rodriguez. It read: “The City is still awaiting final
    reports on tests conducted at the above listed sight. We
    are not in a position to allow access to the subject
    premises in light of our ongoing investigation and testing.
    Please submit all future requests for access to this

    On February 24, the PBA sent an official notice to the
    mayor, copying Rodriguez, Derenda, and the New York State
    Department of Labor, demanding full reports on the testing
    being done at 669 Hertel, citing OSHA rules. They also
    commenced court action to fight the city’s denial of access
    to the facility.

    In the meantime, D District officers were moved to a
    temporary facility in University Heights, three miles
    across town.

    But, perhaps unbeknownst to City Hall, some of the
    displaced cops returned to the Hertel Avenue building to
    perform some environmental testing of their own. An
    Artvoice source says that some officers went in and
    collected samples directly from places where the mold was
    most obvious, and sent the samples off to labs in Canada,
    Florida, and Texas. The results came back in 48 to 72
    hours, and the samples tested at all three labs came back
    indicating lots and lots of black mold.

    The tests were done without permission, and those involved
    are concerned about retaliation from their superiors. Since
    then, the city has changed the locks on the doors at the
    precinct and deactivated the swipe cards officers use to
    get in.

    The city says the building is safe
    Last Friday, March 12, a press conference was called in
    City Hall to announce the “final air quality report on D
    District.” In essence, the two-page synopsis said there was
    mold—including Stachybotrys or “black mold,” which can
    cause severe health problems—but that there was nothing to
    worry about. City officials said that the D District would
    be moved over to 205 Esser in Riverside, into space rented
    from the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo for $4,500 a month in
    All Saints Roman Catholic Church Society. The cops will
    share space with the Boys & Girls Club and other parish

    The city has budgeted $300,000 for testing and remediation
    of the D District building. The rent to the diocese is

    Although the full study wasn’t immediately released to the
    media, mayoral spokesman Peter Cutler indicated that a copy
    had been sent to the PBA. Rodriguez said that the law
    department was deciding whether or not the information
    could be released to the media, pursuant to FOIL. Perhaps
    by Monday, reporters were told, they would have an answer
    to that. Mayor Byron Brown also said the PBA was welcome to
    conduct their own environmental tests, and the following
    Monday they city made the full study public.

    At the press conference I asked if the air vents had been
    cleaned prior to testing. At first I was told no. But by
    the time I got back to the office, an email had arrived
    from Cutler indicating that they were, but that “it
    wouldn’t make any difference because (1) the air is drawn
    into the building, not out; and (2) the subsequent testing
    by Leader indicated that there was no evidence of harmful
    airborne materials from the areas they tested.” I was told
    to call Keith Keller at Leader if I had further questions.

    I did. Keller did not explain why the direction the air is
    drawn through the filters has any bearing on the question
    of whether cleaning the ducts and replacing the filters
    might have affected the results of an air quality test. But
    he helped fill in some blanks in the timeline. He also
    pointed me toward Indoor Air Pro, the company that cleaned
    out the vents. When I called out to their Lancaster office,
    CEO David Gordon told me that the city told him not to talk
    to the press. “We’ve been specifically asked not to talk to
    the media,” he said. He gave me the name and phone number
    of Joe Schollard, Principal Chief Stationary Engineer with
    the city, who would be handling all such inquiries.

    I called Schollard and left a message, asking him to call
    me regarding the D District. He didn’t call back, but when
    I called back the next day, he had a ready response to my
    inquiry. “Actually, they’ve put it with the law department
    now. It’s with David Rodriguez. So you have to talk to
    him,” he said.

    Rodriguez has not returned phone calls.

    On Wednesday morning, I spoke to North District Councilman
    Joe Golombek, who was instrumental in lining up the lease
    for the precinct at All Saints. I told him what I’d
    learned, and pointed out that the police are rightfully
    ticked off that this whole thing has been handled in a
    clandestine way. Golombek called back and explained that he
    was able to reach Cutler, and that the law department was
    preparing to send papers over to the PBA formalizing an
    agreement to allow them their own independent testing of
    the property.

    There is some reason to think that all of the tests run so
    far may ultimately be inconclusive. According to a client
    service representative at Galson Laboratories, where Leader
    sent some of the D District air samples for testing, it’s
    not a good idea to clean the air ducts before you test: “I
    wouldn’t touch a thing, because you want to get a
    representation of the way conditions were before anything
    was done,” a representative told me. “In my opinion, if you
    want to get a snapshot of what’s occurring within an office
    building, just sample the way it is.”

    As a result of cleaning out the air vents and changing the
    air filters before the air quailty tests were performed,
    the city may have ruined any chance of determining
    precisely what the officers had been exposed to.

    Sadly we should also note the passing of Police Officer
    David Sadlocha, on Tuesday, March 16. Sadlocha, 53 years
    old, had been a longtime cop at D District who’d been
    battling cancer in recent years. He went into the hospital
    last week, developed pneumonia, and died.

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