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Officers Sickened, Police Post Shut in Long Beach

Health: Mold was found in the crowded, aging facility, and tests will address whether it's to blame. Police chief wants a new building soon.

April 12, 2002|HECTOR BECERRA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Long Beach police officers and other employees were removed from the North Patrol substation Thursday, and the facility was closed, after several officers became seriously ill, authorities said.

The closure of the substation in Scherer Park comes after the discovery of mold in several parts of the facility, said Long Beach Assistant City Manager Gerald Miller. The more than 100 officers and other police employees will be temporarily moved to the West Patrol Substation at 1835 Santa Fe Ave.

A city safety officer found the mold Tuesday and a company tested the air quality of the facility after reports of 17 officers becoming ill in the past month, acting Police Chief John Bretza said.

Mold was found in modular buildings that house bathrooms and locker rooms. The substation, composed of a small building and several trailers, is about 20 years old.

City and police officials stressed on Thursday that the mold may not responsible for the illnesses. However, it will be two weeks before tests reveal whether there are harmful spores, bacteria or fungi in the substation.

"We're not sure whether there's a relationship between the illnesses and the building," Miller said. "But we want to make every effort, if we do have a problem, to address it. We want to err on the side of caution."

Bretza said he believes conditions at the substation have played a role in the illnesses. In the past month, four officers have contracted pneumonia, three bronchitis and 10 others a variety of upper respiratory illnesses, Bretza said.

He said the building's floor crumbles and there is often flooding because of the plumbing or leaky roof. Stagnant water under modular units has caused noxious odors.

"It's also extremely overcrowded. There's over 100 people in a very confined space," Bretza said.

Miller said an environmental impact report issued about two years ago confirmed problems at the substation.

Conditions at the substation, at Del Amo Boulevard and Atlantic Avenue, were noted as a reason for moving officers to a new facility, Miller said. The Long Beach Police Department will probably begin construction of a large police station at Scherer Park this summer. In the meantime, construction of a smaller substation to temporarily house officers at the closed substation could begin in the next few months, Miller said.

He said that even if tests do not show that the building sickened the officers, several changes will be made to the old substation.

"I'm very worried about my officers," Bretza said. "I really have to commend our officers for working in such deplorable conditions for so long. I'm hoping the new building gets built as soon as possible."

Many neighborhood residents have long opposed any police station at the park, seeing it as an encroachment on parkland.

However, a member of the Stop Taking Our Parks said she was aware of problems at the old substation.

"I'm not surprised at all," said Gigi Fast Elk Bannister. She said reading the environmental impact report and visiting the substation made it clear the buildings were troubled.

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