WRAL Investigates

Fight over workers' 'sick building' claims drags on

Posted February 27, 2009
Updated March 9, 2009

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— Thirteen years after Moore County moved workers out of a building in response to their complaints that the building made them sick, seven former county employees are fighting for payment for their medical treatments.

Some of the people who worked in the Moore County Community Services Center say they still feel cursed by the building.

Former Moore County employee Dawn Kidd said she has been physically unable to hold a steady job since 1996.

"It's like having the flu all the time, and you couldn't get over it," Kidd said. "No matter how much you try to put it out of mind, it's there."

Moore County sick building Workers say building made them sick

WRAL News first investigated the workers' claims that the county building was responsible for their health problems in 1996. They said the building previously was occupied by an electronics company that used harsh solvents. Also, septic tank leach lines ran underneath the building, and poorly ventilated offices were regularly sprayed with pesticides, they said.

After the complaints began, the county pumped the septic tank and replaced carpet, ceiling tiles and the heating and air conditioning system. Tests after the clean-up showed no major problems, but the county eventually closed the building and converted it to storage space.

"I was fine until I started working in that building," former Moore County employee Sharon Scott said recently, adding that she remains highly sensitive to chemicals like household cleaners and to perfume.

Scott said she's also sensitive to the time she and her colleagues have lost trying to prove the building caused their problems. When the matter began, her daughter hadn't started kindergarten; this year, she will graduate from high school.

County officials and the state Industrial Commission, which handles worker's compensation claims, maintain the building isn't responsible for the employees' health problems.

After eight years of fighting the county, the employees saw a glimmer of hope when a deputy commissioner on the Industrial Commission sided with them in 2004.

"It felt great, but it wasn't the end of the story," Scott said.

The full commission later reversed the decision, and the case has bounced back and forth between the state Court of Appeals and the commission ever since. A new commission ruling in the case is expected soon.

"My clients feel terribly misunderstood. They feel that the Industrial Commission doesn't understand the evidence and the facts," said George Lennon, the attorney for the employees.

Matt Little, the attorney for Moore County, said in a statement that the commission's decisions have been based on the evidence.

"There were no dangerous substances in the Community Services building which caused any harm to the plaintiffs as proven by the testing and medical evidence presented in the case," Little wrote.

Moore County officials declined to comment.

The workers said they aren't optimistic about a favorable ruling by the Industrial Commission, and they said they plan to again appeal the decision if it goes as they expect it to.

"The building made us sick. The building is empty. We need help," Scott said.

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  • twofar2quit Mar 2, 2009

    You are not only fighting for yourselves, but for the rest of us too. It sounds to me like the industrial comm. is not doing their job. It really sould scare the workers here in NC. And I heard that Matt Little the counties attorney is writting the opinion and award and the industrial comm. is stamping their seal of approval on it. Not very fair to the workers now is it.

  • jcofarms Mar 2, 2009

    Keep fighting they owe you! They know there is something in the building or they would open it.

  • chyriemoore Mar 2, 2009

    I have 1st hand knowledge of this case. I worked in a nursing home on the same block as this building during this time period and live in Moore County.
    I know some of these people personally. They are good christian people who would never try to scam anyone.
    As to why they worked there and not somewhere else. Why would anyone work somewhere: training, location, benefits. This is a rural area; you have to get a job where you can. Carthage is the place you work, if you live in rural Moore County and the county government is the largest employer there.
    My questions are these:
    1) WHY, if nothing is wrong with the building, is it not used for offices now? Moore County is constantly buying buildings for office space.
    2) WHY did one of the Industrial Commissioners side with these people, then reverse his ruling? WHY will the commission not do its job and read the materials pertaining to this case?
    3) WHY has this gone of for 13 years? 4) WHAT is the county afraid? 5) WHY?

  • hill Mar 2, 2009

    If I owned this building I would be made to pay up. But the government owns it and it is just hid under the rug, and nothing said about it. By the county keeping the building closed for 13 yrs they are admitting quilt. All these poor people are asking for is just workmans comp. It would have been cheaper to have just gave it to them 13 yrs ago then it has been for them to fight it this long. Just goes to show you, you can't do nothing with the government. And jermsangel is right it is so sad, and it could happen to anybody. So don't be so highminded and think that it can't happen to you. Not everybody is out to stick people. It is truly sad and something needs to be done. Thank you WRAL for putting this back in the open. Please don't let this story go. They need your help fighting it. It is so sad.

  • jermsangel032006 Mar 2, 2009

    You people that say they had the choice to work there don't know what you are talking about. One of them is one of my best friends, she loved working and hates that she can't. She is on multiple meds. for her condition and it is sad. All they are asking for is workmans comp. If this was anybody but the government it would have been settled 13 years ago.And besides why is the building still empty? You better think about it before you talk bad about them, it could be you. You could be working somewhere and have no idea what you are breathing. These people were just doing their job and now are punished for the rest of their lives with this problem. Oh and did ya'll know that 2 that worked there and got sick are already dead. Ya'll need to get your facts straight before you go bad mouthing this poor people.

  • 7Degrees Mar 2, 2009

    O wonder what these people did in their private lives? Many cases of "work-related" injuries are directly related to what people do on their own time and not at work.

  • ncdowneast Feb 27, 2009

    Another reason why companies would rather manufacture offshore of the US. "This place makes my nose itch, I think I will call my attorney" BooHoo...

  • whatelseisnew Feb 27, 2009

    wah wah wah wah me me me wah wah .

  • kellymegan14 Feb 27, 2009

    Refusing to test the original building after pleas from the workers shows the county did not want to know the results. Instead they erred on the side of saving the county's skin, destroying any evidence that could be used against them.

  • Panther Feb 27, 2009

    Sorry, no one forced them to work there. It sounds like someone expecting something for nothing.