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Health concerns close Extension Center

GATESVILLE – Possible health hazards have closed the Gates County Extension Center until further notice.

Gates County Manager Toby Chappell said the closure came on the heels of an inspection conducted Nov. 5 by the NC Department of Labor.

“Someone contacted OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) concerning possible lead paint and asbestos at the Extension Center that was causing employees working in those offices to become sick,” Chappell said. “On Wednesday of last week, an OSHA inspector checked the building, but could not say conclusively either way if health problems were present.”

It was Chappell who decided to close the office until additional tests could be conducted.

“I made the call to err on the side of caution and remove the employees from any possible health hazards until we can find out if there are problems in the building” Chappell said.

The closure affects the Extension Center workers as well as employees with the Gates County Board of Elections, which is housed in the same building. Both offices are now fully operational at the Gates County Department of Social Services building.

Meanwhile, the Extension Center building is sealed off and no one is allowed to enter without Chappell’s prior approval.

“We’ve already contracted with a firm that is scheduled to arrive on Monday (Nov. 10) and conduct an asbestos survey,” Chappell noted. “They will give us a full report and recommendations on how to abate the problem if there is indeed a problem.”

Chappell said the survey will include one for air quality in an effort to determine if asbestos is present in the building and if that level is below the acceptable limit.

“We’re hoping to have those test results back by Friday (Nov. 14) and then a second prong of the survey, performed on Wednesday (Nov. 12) will test for the possible presence of lead paint with that report coming back sometimes next week,” Chappell stated.

As previously noted, the majority of the Extension Center staff has been relocated to the Gates County DSS office (122 Main Street, Gatesville). Those seeking to contact Extension Center staff can do so by calling DSS at 252-357-0075. The fax number is (252) 357-2132.

Extension staff are located as follows:

CED: Reba Green-Holley, Department of Social Services and Hertford County Extension Center;

4-H/FCS Program Assistants/Associates and Secretaries: BJ Okleson, Edna Williams, Connie Wolfrey, Lovie Roscoe, Sandy Holley, Patricia Boone and Keli Boone at the DSS office;

Area Agents Stephanie Parker-Helmkamp at the Hertford County Center and Gates County Center; Marjorie Rayburn at the Chowan County Center; and

Ag Agent Paul Smith at the USDA Service Center (252-357-0290, Ext, 108; Fax 252-357-1242).

All mail for the Extension Center still comes to PO Box 46, Gatesville, NC 27938.

Additionally, those registering for the Wednesday, Nov. 12 Ethanol meeting are asked to call DSS at 357-0075. The location for that meeting has changed to the Gatesville Elementary School Library at 709 Main Street, Gatesville. That meeting is still scheduled for 6:30-9 p.m. Gates County farmers and others interested in agriculture and the “Go Green” movement are urged to attend this meeting to learn more about East Coast Ethanol’s plans to construct a facility in nearby Northampton County.