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High humidity causes stench in City Hall air

Trouble is literally in the air at City Hall.

Four environmental consulting companies claim excessive amounts of humidity, dust and moisture have polluted the building's air supply.

The companies conducted tests this year after employees complained about mold growing in several offices and musty odors of mildew coming from City Council chambers.

To date, no one has charged that the 19-year-old building is making people sick.

But several of the 58 people who spend at least eight hours a day inside City Hall, a two-story building, have called the odor in the air an offensive nuisance, Pinellas Park City Manager Ron Forbes said.

"This is not a sick building. We haven't had any reports like that," Forbes said. "We perceive this to be a maintainence problem, something that can and will be fixed."

To City Council member Bill Mischler, City Hall always has been a bit foul.

"As soon as you walk in, there is a mildew smell that hits you," he said. "I've smelled it for years. I thinks it's embarrassing. I'm sure strangers that come in say, "Boy, has this place got problems.'

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The major finding among the four companies was an elevated level of humidity. According to Silver Star Environmental Consultants, a building should have no more than 60 percent relative humidity. In Pinellas Park's case, the relative humidity was between 61 percent and 77 percent.

"Once you start getting beyond the average range, the environment becomes ideal for the proliferation of micro-organisms to grow and later be disseminated into the air," said David J. Silver, an industrial hygienist and president of Silver Star. "In this case, we didn't find the kinds of organisms that cause building-related disease."

If left uncorrected, Silver said the combination of mold and humidity could cause an even worse stench to linger in City Hall. But neither will likely pose a threat to employees' health.

The other companies that tested the building's air system were the Drake Corp., Environmental Sciences Group and the Beacon Group of Tampa.

Forbes and City Council members insist that the problem is being remedied as quickly as possible.

One cure being considered would set aside $110,000 for installation of a dehumidifying system and two new air conditioners. The new system would create a pressurized effect, pushing out bad air and recirculating fresh air, said City Engineer Jerry Halstead.

Under the second phase of that plan an environmental cleaning company would be hired to scrub down City Hall. The cleaning would occur after the new system and air conditioners are installed. The public works division is working with an engineer to design the new system. It is expected to be up and running early next year.

"You hear a lot of stories about buildings making people sick," said Halstead, who also is the Pinellas Park Public Works administrator. "City Hall is not one of them. It's just one of many building in Florida that has problems with humidity."

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