Tauranga City Council has been accused of applying “band aids” to what some staff fear are serious ongoing contamination and health issues at the civic administration building in Willow Street.
They have also accused the council of “inaction and understating” the impact of the scare.
TCC CEO Garry Poole has admitted toxic black mould discovered in the civic building has made one council worker sick while 35 others had been moved to a safer working area.
But testing could prove the problem is much bigger. A council document leaked to SunLive says the council is looking into other office space, to temporarily accommodate between 40 to 120 employees depending on the results of building tests.
Sources, who wish to remain anonymous, have told SunLive that several staff who normally enjoy good health have suffered rhinitis – an irritation and inflammation of the mucous membrane inside the nose. Common symptoms are a stuffy and runny nose.
It’s usually triggered by airborne allergens – like mould spores.
Others have suffered unusual bouts of earache, headaches and respiratory problems. And people who normally wouldn’t get sick started going to the doctors with “awful flus and bronchitis”.
SunLive has been told that all of these people worked in the affected area. And just recently one person developed sores on their legs.
Garry says the council only became aware of the health issue recently, when just one worker became ill and raised the issue that his work area contained mould.
The area was tested and it came back positive for stachybotrys black mould.
Depending on the length of exposure and volume of spores inhaled or ingested, stachybotrys can manifest all the symptoms reported by staff including irritation to the eyes, mucous membranes of the mouth, nose and throat, as well as sneezing and chronic coughing.
Severe cases of exposure can be extreme, including nausea, vomiting, and bleeding in the lungs and nose.
Garry says the test report shows carpet and underlay presence of stachybotrys, an abundance of active growth and other fungal spores.
Council then consulted the Bay of Plenty District Health Board, the Medical Officer of Health and Worksafe NZ.
Garry says the council acted swiftly and appropriately when it discovered the contamination.
He says 35 staff in the affected area were immediately given the option of going home, working from home or being moved to another area.
They all chose the latter and were assured in the leaked memo that council “was doing everything we can”.
Council staff were reluctant to talk to SunLive because they feared for their jobs, however they said there appeared to be discrepancies over when and how the problem was first discovered.
Sources told SunLive the problems at the civic building began back in 2003. During storms rainwater was pouring down the inside of a large glass window on the side of the administration building facing the art gallery.
According to one report, the rain water was collected in a bucket, decanted into another and poured out.
But staff say the problem was never addressed and some ‘sick’ employees and others anxious for their health started asking to be removed from the area.
They claim sickness has been an ongoing problem since 2003. And it was only when a health and safety officer pulled back the carpet did they realise the seriousness of the problem. SunLive has been told there were spores like little mushrooms in the carpet.
Garry says he can’t apply a time scale yet. “We are trying to track back the history of the building,” he says.
“hey are also talking to council staff about when leakages occurred and the entire building is now being tested.
So is the city administration building a “leaker” – does it have water tightness issues? Garry says that can’t be answered yet. And could there be major financial exposure for ratepayers? That also can’t be answered yet.
However, in his memo to staff, Garry apologised to staff for any disruption and thanked them for their ongoing commitment.