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New London ordered by health district to clean up moldy City Hall room

By Kathleen Edgecomb

Publication: The Day

Published January 17. 2014 4:00AM

New London - The city has been ordered by Ledge Light Health District to immediately repair a broken steam pipe and clean up a moldy room on the first floor of City Hall, where humidity levels are topping 98 percent and mold and mildew are growing on the walls and across the ceiling.

Ledge Light Health District, the public health agency for the city and four other towns, inspected the 100-year-old building last week and issued a Public Health Order on Thursday. An inspection report outlined additional violations of the public health code in the building, including a 5-foot hole in the ceiling of a vacant second-floor office where a sewer pipe had ruptured overhead; chipped and peeling paint throughout; lack of hot water in some of the bathrooms; and potentially high moisture levels in the basement where documents are stored.

The city must submit a "plan of remediation" to Ledge Light by Jan. 24 and must have the leaking steam pipe repaired and the mold in first floor room cleaned by Jan. 31.

Public Works Director Tim Hanser said in a report Thursday to Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio that $250,000 is needed for the immediate repairs and to begin developing a long-term solution for the building's other needs.

The general condition of the mechanicals of the building is not known, Hanser said, but several other potential steam pipe leaks have been detected.

"Engineering Services will oversee a thorough investigation of the building's mechanicals, structural integrity, building compliance, and ADA compliance," he wrote.

Finizio will request a $250,000 appropriation from the City Council at its meeting Tuesday night.

"I have reviewed the report that was completed by Ledge Light Health District, and in response the Administration has submitted a resolution to the City Council asking them for authorization to apply for state funds so we may immediately resolve the critical infrastructure concerns in City Hall," Finizio said in a prepared statement Thursday. He declined further comment.

In December, public works employees broke down a door in the unoccupied first floor room of City Hall after a buildup of steam set off an alarm inside. The door was swollen shut by the humidity. Inside, walls were dripping with water, and mold was visible on the walls and over boxes. The room was then sealed shut with plywood until Ledge Light inspectors entered the room Jan. 10.

City Hall workers and visitors had been complaining about a musty smell in the building for months. A steam pipe in the wall inside the room broke about nine months ago, and a worker using the room had moved out. The door was closed and repairs never made.

Stephen Mansfield, deputy director at Ledge Light, said public health orders are not unusual and are used as a legal document to specify when and how violations will be addressed.

"A public health order doesn't mean someone is in noncompliance," he said.

Mold, he said in his report, is a public nuisance because it can lead to, or exacerbate, respiratory issues in some individuals.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, mold exposure does not always present a health problem indoors. But those who are sensitive to molds can experience symptoms such as nasal stuffiness, eye irritation, wheezing or skin irritation.

Severe reactions, which may occur among workers exposed to large amounts of molds in occupational settings, such as farmers working around moldy hay, include fever and shortness of breath. People with chronic lung diseases whose immune systems are compromised are at increased risk for opportunistic infections and could develop fungal infections in their lungs.

Mansfield said the humidity in the room is the most immediate issue in the building. The health district will work with the city to address the issues, he said.

"Due to the age of the building, it is likely there are possible hazards associated with the walls, ceilings, and insulation of the room (lead and/or asbestos) and thus assistance from OSHA and the City of New London Building Department will be required to address the issue," he wrote in the report.

At least a dozen people work in City Hall, and it is visited regularly by members of the public to research land records, get marriage licenses, dog licenses and conduct other business at the City Clerk's office, handle estate matters at the Probate Court, or attend meetings in City Council chambers.

City Finance Director Jeff Smith said he will request that the funds come out of the state Local Capital Improvement Project grant. Each year the city is eligible for about $280,000 in LoCIP funds that can only be used for building and road projects. The municipality completes the work and then is reimbursed by the state.

Smith added that there might be some remaining LoCIP funds available that were unspent from previous years.

k.edgecomb@theday.com

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