BATAVIA — On April 27, 2016, David Gringer filed a complaint with the Genesee County Health Department.
He stated that “mold and chemicals in the Batavia City Centre caused irritation to his eyes and chest and vomiting when he was at the eye doctor located inside the mall.”
This is according to documents The Daily News received after submitting a Freedom of Information request with the county Health Department.
When asked recently about the incident over the phone, Gringer said he remembered it.
“They gotta to do something in there,” he said. “It’s been like that for years.”
Gringer was advised by the Health Department to refer his complaint to the state Attorney General’s Office. He couldn’t remember if he followed through on that or not.
This was one of two complaints the county Health Department received last year for “indoor air quality.”
The other came on April 1, via the state Department of Health.
This complaint alleged that there “is visible mold in the City Centre.” Similarly, this complaint was referred back to the state DOH’s Western Region office.
A third set of documents referenced the potential for seagull fecal matter on the roof to potentially pose a public health hazard.
Bill Cox, a former councilman in the first ward, sent a letter to the county health department back in 2008 complaining of seagulls nesting on the roof.
“Mall Merchants have been complaining,” he wrote, “that the accumulation of gull droppings on the mall roof have created a potential health hazard by fumes from those droppings, entering their air conditioning vents every time those air conditioning systems turn on and bring in outside air in close proximity to the gull droppings.”
He requested that the county look into this.
Ten days later, Cox wrote another letter to the Health Department thanking it for evaluating the situation and determining the seagull fecal matter on the mall’s roof “was not an imminent health hazard.”
So if there is mold or another environmental hazard in the Batavia City Centre, as has been alleged, who’s responsibility is it to tackle the issue?
That hasn’t been an easy question to answer.County health department’s role
Paul Pettit, public health director for Genesee and Orleans counties, and Jessica Zaremski, also from the county Health Department, provided some clarity toward the issue in an interview Friday morning.
“Typically, a complaint will come in of some such nature, and we refer it to the appropriate department or the appropriate person that would be dealing with those types of complaints based on who has the expertise there,” Pettit said.
The health impacts of mold typically are coughing and irritation in the eyes or nose, Pettit said. The bigger mold concerns are where it’s located in places people live, like a home or apartment.
“People walking through the mall, I would say the exposure is probably limited because it’s probably transient exposure,” he said in addressing potential health effects to the public, if there’s mold in the mall. “But that would depend on what kind of mold it is and the level of it.”
The county Health Department said it would not be the entity to begin an investigation into whether or not there is mold in the mall, at least not based off a few complaints.
The Daily News’ Freedom of Information request asked for complaints going back to 2007, and the three incidents were the only files Pettit and the department received in that time.
The only information provided in the seagull fecal matter case were the letters sent by Cox to the Health Department. Pettit said that case predates him so he did not know or want to speculate as to how the situation was handled.Who is responsible?
In both cases — and with other mold complaints, Petit and Zaremski said — the Genesee County health department alerted the city code enforcement office of the mold complaints, though this was not attached to the documents The Daily News received, or mentioned in the documents.
When asked if the first action is to contact the code enforcement office when a complaint of mold is received, Petit simply said: “Correct.”
Petit said that if there was an influx of concern and there was very visual evidence of negligence on fixing the problem, “I think that’s where the board would take a stronger look at saying ‘I think this is something we should talk about and consider and take some action, potentially.’”
But two in the last decade isn’t a cause for his office to incite an investigation.
In determining who would be responsible for potential mold issues in the mall, a representative with the state health department corroborated the county department Friday in an email by saying: “Local building officials are responsible for investigating commercial property maintenance concerns and for responding to leaks and water/moisture accumulation where those problems are violations of maintenance codes.”
The Daily News contacted the city Code Enforcement office for comment for this story. Doug Randall referred The Daily News to City Manager Jason Molino. Multiple attempts for comment from Molino’s office Friday have gone without response.
The Daily News submitted Freedom of Information requests to the City requesting any documents regarding inspections or complaints dealing with the mall from the code enforcement office on Feb. 6. The City acknowledged receipt on Feb. 13 and stated: “Any records that we have in accordance with your request will be provided within 20 business days. If we have the information sooner than that we will certainly provide it at that time.” No documents have yet been received from the City.
Though he said the onus for this issue is not on the Health Department, Pettit wants to help if there is a public health matter here.
“Obviously we’re here and our goal is to protect public health and we’re willing to do whatever we can under our rules and regulations and our scope,” Pettit said. “Typically in these issues, it’s guidance and referrals back to code enforcement under uniform building codes.”