WRAL Investigates

Fight over workers' 'sick building' claims drags on

Posted February 27, 2009 7:00 p.m. EST
Updated March 9, 2009 5:13 p.m. EDT

— 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."

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.