Courthouse cleanup expanded

by Alicia McCutcheon with files from Tom Sasvari

GORE BAY—, workers may face even more of a delay in getting back to work with the discovery of “copious amounts” of bat guano, according to a Little Current lawyer.

Joe Chapman contacted The Expositor last week with reports that, to make the situation facing the courthouse even worse, bat guano had been discovered by the workers brought in to clean the century-old building. This on the heels of the information that staffers had been dealing with strange symptoms including rashes, welts and fatigue due to the discovery of mould during recent renovations, and later, asbestos.

When contacted, the Ministry of the Attorney General’s office and communications person, Brendan Crawley, explained bat guano had indeed been found in the attic.

“The cleaning of this area, which includes the removal of the old insulation, is continuing and has not been stopped,” he said. “Once the clean up is complete, new insulation will be installed.”

Mr. Crawley continued, noting that the remote areas of the courthouse that are subject to additional cleaning are not accessible to staff.

“The mould remediation and asbestos removal are complete,” he added. “The building is now being cleaned from top to bottom to ensure full confidence in the quality of the air in the courthouse.”

As a precaution, he wrote, staff will continue to work from alternate locations until the work is complete and further air quality tests are conducted.

The Expositor questioned the ministry as to the delay from the time of mould detection to staff removal from the courthouse, noting that disgruntled court workers and members of counsel had pointed fingers, believing if it weren’t for the Ministry of Labour stepping in, employees might still be working there under dangerous conditions.

“Health and safety is always the priority and action was taken quickly to remediate the mould and asbestos from the courthouse,” Mr. Crawley responded. “Once an action plan was in place and test results were received, the information was shared with court users and staff in open public sessions.”

The public sessions Mr. Crawley refers to were held as recently as last Monday—one in the afternoon and one in early evening. Reports from the meetings with officials from both ministries and Infrastructure Ontario told of frustration at the lack of communication felt on behalf of court staff. The public learned from Dr. Om Malik, with ECOH Management Inc., an environmental consulting and environmental health firm, that results for the air samples indicated that airborne mould and asbestos are within acceptable levels.

“I’m severely allergic to mould and I have had pneumonia since May,” Shirlene Weir told officials during last week’s meeting. “Now I’m hearing I’ve been exposed to asbestos along with mould. My health has gone straight downhill.”

“I have been furious about this as have other employees for the past two weeks—we have received nothing but double talk, and nothing in writing until now. We are supposed to be working in a safe environment, but most of us have had health concerns, and nothing was done,” she continued.

Lawyers also expressed their displeasure at the “breakdown” in communication.

In an email from Gore Bay lawyer James Wepplar to his fellow counsel, he writes, “We as counsel were left trying to figure out where court was and leaving our clients even further in the dark. It is not acceptable that we have to try and phone the courthouse to see where court is and then no one answers the phone because they are no longer in their offices and we are then supposed to go to various sites to figure out where to go to work.”

The Expositor learned Monday that the Ministry of Labour has lifted its advisory on the courthouse with two conditions: the environmental consultant must be on-site to oversee any future cleaning; and no staff may enter the building while cleaning is occurring. However, the Ministry of the Attorney General and ECOH Management passed decision that courthouse access will be restricted to “cleaning personnel only” until clean up is complete and air quality tests are available, according to an email from Marc Boissonneault, manager of court operations, to courthouse staff and counsel.

“The Ministry of the Attorney General has committed to the following additional steps: cleaning the attic including removal and replacement of all insulation; testing the insulation for any possible avian contaminants; complete cleaning HVAC system and ducts and a more detailed sampling of the type of mould; and once the building has been completely cleaned, a full re-testing of indoor air quality will be undertaken,” the email continued.

As for when the resumption of court operations is expected, Mr. Crawley said a date has yet to be determined.

At present, court proceedings that would usually take place in the government-owned facility have been re-scheduled: some at the Gore Bay town office and some being held at the Gore Bay branch of the Royal Canadian Legion. For all courthouse counter services, including filing court documents, members of the public are directed to the town office.