John is a senior reporter at the Bay of Plenty Times

Council acts as staff report illness

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The council building on Willow St.
The council building on Willow St.

An investigation has been launched to unravel the mystery of why some Tauranga City Council staff are feeling unwell.

They work in areas of the downtown Willow St administration building that have tested free from the toxic black mould discovered 16 months ago.

"We have nothing to hide," Kirsty Downey, the general manager of the chief executive's group, told the Bay of Plenty Times yesterday.

Concerns that mould could be the reason for a small number of people feeling unwell was the latest in a saga that began in December 2014 when toxic mould was found to be the cause for a staff member falling sick.

The discovery triggered a massive council response, with hundreds of staff relocated to commercial buildings elsewhere in the downtown area. Large areas of the civic complex were found to be infected with the toxic mould stachybotrys, or a fungi called chrysosporium.

Garry Poole says the council is investigating.
Garry Poole says the council is investigating.

Council chief executive Garry Poole's admission that some staff were feeling unwell followed an anonymous tip-off to the Bay of Plenty Times that a worker was experiencing bleeding gums in an area that had been declared safe to work in.

He denied the accusation that unsafe levels of mould had been detected many weeks before the person became unwell.

Mr Poole said ongoing airborne testing, including for the presence of stachybotrys, had not turned up anything in the area where the people who felt unwell were working.

If tests had proved positive, then people would have been removed from the area.

He said health professionals had been asked if they could ascertain anything that could have caused the staff to feel unwell because the council had not found anything in the building tests. It could be that the symptoms were unrelated to anything at work.

Ms Downey said the handful of staff having issues had been invited to meet with health professionals.

She stressed that the staff were not currently occupying a site that previously tested positive to stachybotrys.

"No one is working in a place that had positive tests now or in the past."

She said if the situation had been any different to what had been reported in the past, the council would have shared the information with the public.

The council had brought in health professionals because it could not state categorically that the ill health was not attributable to the building.

Mr Poole said they were talking to the health professionals on a confidential basis to ascertain if there was a common theme to the people feeling unwell.

"We do not want our people put at risk."

No tests had yet been able to confirm why the people were feeling unwell, he said.

The immediate aftermath of the discovery of the toxic mould in early December 2014 saw 353 of the council's 520 staff moved out of their work spaces.

Tauranga's toxic mould response:

* No positive tests for mould in the Willow St administration buildings since early last year.

* Regular air tests plus periodic testing for mould.

* No staff working in areas that tested positive for toxic mould.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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