The city of Southfield is doing damage control after a complaint filed earlier this summer alleged safety and health hazards at two different worksites.
From bed bugs in the Treasurer’s Office to standing water under elevators to asbestos in city buildings, city officials say they are working to correct the problems, including closing the Michigan Works! Career Center Building, also known as the John Grace Community Center.
According to a complaint filed June 21 with the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s General Industry Safety and Health Division, worksites at the Southfield Municipal Complex, 26000 Evergreen Road, and the Michigan Works! Southfield Career Center building contain unsafe working conditions.
In the south end of the basement at the city’s Municipal Complex building, the complaint alleges, asbestos is coming out of the insulation in the ceiling near cable wiring. The insulation in the ventilation is ripped in at least three different areas, the complaint says, and employees are experiencing illness, headaches and nausea.
In the north end of the basement at the Municipal Complex building, the complaint alleges, mold and asbestos are present in various areas of a hallway leading from the main hallway to the Parks and Recreation Department. The paint is chipping, according to the complaint, and employees are concerned the paint could be lead based.
At the Southfield Building Department, also housed in the Municipal Complex building, mold and standing water are underneath the main elevator, the complaint alleges.
At the Michigan Works! building, 21030 Indian Road, employees are reportedly experiencing sickness, fatigue, headaches, dizzy spells, nausea, vertigo and respiratory issues, and there have been several people diagnosed with cancer.
When the complaint was filed, MIOSHA gave the city 15 calendar days to investigate the alleged conditions and make any necessary changes. Within 30 days, the city was to respond to MIOSHA.
According to Tanya Baker, of the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs’ office of communications, the city has responded to the complaint and is taking action to resolve the complaints.
“The letter was sent in response to a complaint filed by an employee. MIOSHA has been getting updates from the employer regularly, including results of testing done for asbestos, lead and mold,” Baker said in an email. “The employer is taking remedial measures.”
Since the city has been compliant with MIOSHA, the complaint letter indicated that an on-site evaluation may not be necessary at the two buildings. However, MIOSHA selects for on-site investigations random samples of cases where employers have taken corrective action.
City Administrator Fred Zorn addressed the issues at a Sept. 12 Committee of the Whole meeting.
“We are responding and have responded to those MIOSHA complaints,” Zorn said at the meeting.
Zorn said that the buildings were tested for mold, but no mold was found. Asbestos, however, was found.
“This building and this campus does have asbestos-containing materials that exist in a nonfriable state,” Zorn said. “(Asbestos is in) most buildings in Southfield in the era we grew up. That was a material used until the late ‘70s.”
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, asbestos is a mineral fiber that occurs in rock and soil. Because of its fiber strength and heat resistance, asbestos was used in many building construction materials for insulation and as a fire retardant.
When asbestos-containing material is disturbed, particles can be released into the air. Exposure to the particles can increase one’s risk of developing lung disease. The chance of developing lung disease from asbestos is greater in those who smoke.
Asbestos-containing materials are considered friable when they can be crumbled or reduced to a powder by hand pressure. If they can’t, the materials are considered nonfriable.
The Southfield Municipal Complex was opened in 1979 and houses Southfield City Hall, the Southfield Police Department, the 46th District Court, and the Southfield Parks and Recreation office.
Zorn said concerns are being addressed at the Michigan Works! Career Center Building, also known as the John Grace Community Center.
“At John Grace we are working on vacating that building,” he said at the meeting. No further information was available about that at press time.
The standing water in the Building Department has been addressed and is being monitored, Zorn said.
“We had an environmental consultant come out and survey (the asbestos). We do have an operations management plan that needs to be updated, and we’ve started that dialogue,” he said at the meeting.
Zorn also addressed concerns raised about bed bugs in City Hall.
According to Deputy City Administrator John Michrina, bed bugs were found in the Treasurer’s Office.
Michrina said the city did not notify the public of the bed bug issue because the bugs were not located in a public area.
“Just to confirm, as far as public notice — these were not in the public area. They were far back into the Treasurer’s Department, so it wasn’t as if, gee, people were standing where they were,” Michrina said at the meeting. “They were quite a distance, actually. Only in a couple cubicles. They were sprayed.”
A fire in the basement of the Municipal Complex building was also brought to light at the meeting.
According to Fire Chief Johnny Menifee, a fire broke out around 10:18 a.m. Sept. 6 in the basement of the Municipal Complex building, in a utility room.
The fire started when a transformer in the room blew, which caused the power in the Municipal Complex to go out. Employees were able to put out the fire before crews arrived, and the building was treated for smoke using fans.
Employees were sent home for the day, according to a post on the city’s website. Menifee said power was restored later that day.
Zorn acknowledged that there is no fire suppression system in the Municipal Complex. He said the city is taking steps to purchase suppression systems for the entire building.
“Yes, there is no fire suppression system in this building. When this building was built, it was not required. That was the code. This council is aware that there is no working fire safety system,” he said at the meeting.
A transformer fire is rare, Menifee said, and officials are still unsure what caused the transformer to blow.
Several members of the City Council said they had no idea of the claims about the working conditions at the buildings.
Councilman Michael Mandelbaum said he was unaware of the issues in the buildings until he saw a news report.
“The only request I would have is if this type of situation happens again — where something is going on in the news — if we could just get a heads up with our response in case someone asks us,” Mandelbaum said.
Councilwoman Tawnya Morris said she was approached about the building conditions.
“On Saturday somebody said, ‘I heard there was asbestos in City Hall, what are you guys doing about it?’” Morris said at the meeting. “I didn’t know.”
At the meeting, Zorn said administrators had been working on sending information to the City Council on the complaints.
“We are working on a response,” he said.