A county employee who works at the Lucas County (Ohio) Job and Family Services building has been hospitalized for nearly two weeks with pneumonia while some 19 others have called in sick with upper respiratory problems over the past six weeks, county officials told the Toledo Blade.

Numerous tests conducted in the building have come back negative, said. Dr. David Grossman, Toledo-Lucas County Health Commissioner.

Testing has also been done on five or six employees who were hospitalized out of the 19 that reported being sick to look for unusual viruses. “So far those are all negative,” Dr. Grossman said.

“Our concern is there is a pathogen in the water or air ducts that could be causing this. Right now we have no evidence of this,” he said.

The number of sick JFS employees and those hospitalized is a little higher than what is present in the general population but it is not unusual for people to develop pneumonia at this time of year, he told the Toledo Blade.

There are more than 300 employees in the building and hundreds of people visit it every day. So far there have been no reports of any members of the public falling ill after visiting the building, just employees, said a county official.

The issue came to the attention of Sophia Lloyd, executive director Job and Family Services on July 6. When looking through reports from department managers she noticed an unusual amount of employees out with either pneumonia, bronchitis or some other respiratory problem. She asked the health department to assess the situation the next day.

“They took a tour of the building and they contacted local hospitals to see if there were any commonalities between the people who were ill,” she said.

HazCorp was then hired to conduct tests for mold, dust and other contaminants -- but all tests have been negative, according to the county.

The decision was then made to have the building sanitized and cleaned during a recent weekend when most employees were out of the building. 

“As of this point this is not sick building syndrome,” Dr. Grossman said. “I had a conference call with the commissioners and I told them I had no scientific or public health reasons to close it now. I did warn them that if we find some pathogen in the building we will shut you tight,” Dr. Grossman said.

Source: The Toledo Blade