Photo: Denise Civiletti

The Kermit W. Graf building on Griffing Avenue in Riverhead remains largely vacant, many months after Cornell Cooperative Extension employees working there began falling ill.

Suffolk County is still trying to figure out what’s causing staff members in the Cooperative Extension offices to feel dizzy, nauseous, lethargic and suffer from headaches and sore throats. Despite spending about $225,000 on investigation and remediation measures to date, according to the Suffolk County Department of Public Works, there are still no answers.

Cooperative Extension first vacated the county-owned building June 1, after several months of employee complaints.

After air quality testing and mold sampling turned up nothing out of the ordinary, according to county officials, the county had the air ducts throughout the building cleaned and relocated the natural gas line that feeds the rooftop HVAC units.

The county commissioner of public works gave the all-clear to reoccupy the building at the end of August. But Cooperative Extension employees began feeling sick again after moving back into the building. By mid-October, CCE was moving back out.

Cooperative Extension employees have been relocated to offices in Yaphank.

Photo: Denise Civiletti

The county has hired a certified industrial hygienist to determine the source of the illnesses and is currently awaiting its report, according to DPW.

County Legislator Al Krupski said today he hopes the report may be filed as early as next week. Krupski’s district office is located on the second floor of the Graf building. It remains open and staffed. Krupski said no one in his office has complained of any of the ailments CCE employees have suffered.

“But there are eight different zones in the building,” Krupski pointed out.

At least one worker’s compensation claim has been filed by an employee in the building. A worker’s compensation investigator met with the CCE executive director Vito Minei and human resources director Valerie Smith on Nov. 13 to discuss the claim and “sick building syndrome,” according to an email from Smith to CCE staff, a copy of which was obtained by RiverheadLOCAL.

Smith wrote that “during the first 5 minutes of meeting scratchy throat and congestion were evident in the 1st Floor Conference Room.” A five-page report was completed and filed with the State Insurance Fund, according to Smith’s email, dated Nov. 16.

Smith said in the email she could not share the investigator’s report due to the employee’s privacy rights.

“However it was very clear our claims were NOT a hoax or bogus claims being filed,” Smith wrote.

The survival of local journalism depends on your support.
We are a small family-owned operation. You rely on us to stay informed, and we depend on you to make our work possible. Just a few dollars can help us continue to bring this important service to our community.
Support RiverheadLOCAL today.

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.