The county building at 423 Griffing Avenue has been largely vacated due to workers' complaints over the past year of headaches, dizziness and nausea. Photo: Denise Civiletti

The county office building on Griffing Avenue has been largely vacated due to recurring complaints by workers over the past year of headaches, dizziness and nausea.

About 100 people work in the building, said County Legislator Al Krupski, whose district office is located on the second floor of the building. It also houses the main offices of Cornell Cooperative Extension, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Services Agency and the Suffolk County Soil and Water Conservation District.

Cornell Cooperative Extension moved its staff from the building about two weeks ago, Krupski said. Suffolk County Soil and Water Conservation District has moved into temporary space at the county center in Riverside, he said. The legislator is still looking for temporary offices for his staff, he said.

The USDA Farm Services Agency office on the ground floor is still open and operating at the building, located just north of the railroad station.

Other than the USDA and Krupski’s office, the building was largely deserted this morning. A crew of workers from Cunningham Air Duct Cleaning Co. of Bayport was on site.

Krupski said the air duct cleaning company’s presence today was good news. The three-story, county-owned building at 423 Griffing Avenue was constructed 18 years ago and he said he’s been told the duct system has never been cleaned. He’s been advocating having the ducts cleaned, he said.

“Complaints about air quality in the building started well over a year ago, ” Krupski said. “Every time there was a complaint Suffolk County Department of Public Works sent somebody right away. We all assumed it was being addressed. But it went on and on,” he said.

There have been gas leaks in the building and the fire department was called, according to Krupski. The building was evacuated four times in the past year, he said. The most recent incident took place last month. Suffolk DPW says there are currently no leaks in the building, according to the legislator.

“They have been doing air quality monitoring for three or four weeks, but it hasn’t shown anything,” he said.

“It got to the point where they don’t know what it is and they can’t guarantee our safety, so people left,” the legislator said.

Krupski said he was unaware of anyone being hospitalized or even requiring medical treatment as a result of the conditions inside the building.

Two people who work in the building, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they have been directed not to speak to the press, both said everyone who works in the building on its upper floors has experienced symptoms over the past year.

“We are all concerned about what we have been breathing for a year,” said one employee. “Not a single window opens in the building.”

That’s “one of the problems with LEED-certified buildings,” Krupski said. “You can’t open a window.”

LEED stands for “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.” It is a rating system devised by the U.S. Green Building Council “to evaluate the environmental performance of a building and encourage market transformation towards sustainable design.”

The employees who spoke to a reporter both said they have come to doubt whether the county is being forthright about the issues.

“They didn’t believe it and downplayed it,” said one worker.

“Suffolk County has been monitoring the air quality in County offices at Griffing Avenue since May 31 through an outside environmental contractor,” Suffolk Public Works Commissioner Gil Anderson said in a statement.

“To date, while the monitors continue to show air quality in the building is safe, certain work, including cleaning of the entire duct system, will be completed before employees move back into the building. The goal is to have all relocated employees back in their offices by late summer.”

Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County executive director Vito Minei said the organization has not yet been told definitively when staff can expect to move back into the Griffing Avenue building.

Signs on the exterior doors of the Griffing Avenue building advise visitors that the Cornell Cooperative Extension offices there are “temporarily closed” but provide no reason for the closure or the location of the offices that are usually housed there.

A similar notice appears on the CCE website and Facebook page.

The notices also state that samples for the Riverhead horticulture diagnostic lab can be brought to the Bayard Cutting Arboretum in Great River or left in a drop box located at the back door of the Griffing Avenue building.

Minei said CEE employees began moving out of the building June 1.

“Some of the Marine Program staff were moved to the Suffolk County Marine Environmental Learning Center in Southold. Several of the Agriculture Program staff joined our other ag staff at the Long Island Horticulture Research and Extension Center on Sound Avenue,” Minei said in an email. “A few employees were moved to the second floor of the Riverhead County Center. Family Health and Wellness and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – education staff have been placed in the Voelker House at the Yaphank County Farm. On June 7, approximately 30 staff from our administration (e.g., finance, HR, marketing) and Marine Program have joined me in our relocation to the Schraeder House at the county farm,” he wrote.

Meetings scheduled to be held in the building have also been relocated, Krupski said.

The legislator said he was unaware of similar problems at other county buildings.

Minei expressed appreciation for the assistance provided by the county in relocating CCE staff.  

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with comments from Suffolk County DPW and Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County.

 

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Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.