Workers exposed to mold at Social Security Administration's west Augusta office, agency says

Friday, June 27, 2014 3:35 PM
Last updated Sunday, June 29, 2014 1:27 AM
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Not long after the Social Security Administration moved into a west Augusta office building in 2011, employees began to notice a troubling pattern of water seeping into the facility, producing an often muggy and musty work environment.

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An 1,800-square-foot building off Claussen Road in west Augusta that was specially upfitted for the Social Security's Agency's Office of Disability Adjudication and Review has working power, signage out front and furniture inside, but is vacant and remains under a 15-year lease with the federal government for $44,000 a month. The building is one of 13 active federal office leases in Augusta.   JON-MICHAEL SULLIVAN/STAFF
An 1,800-square-foot building off Claussen Road in west Augusta that was specially upfitted for the Social Security's Agency's Office of Disability Adjudication and Review has working power, signage out front and furniture inside, but is vacant and remains under a 15-year lease with the federal government for $44,000 a month. The building is one of 13 active federal office leases in Augusta.

In summer 2012, the federal government examined personnel, inspected office space and ran tests at the Claussen Road complex. Within weeks, it concluded that a dozen workers had suffered chronic headaches, eye allergies and asthma symptoms from exposure to mold.

The building’s owner reportedly reacted with far less urgency. Documents show Hafeez Chaudhry’s efforts to fix non-functional thermostats, overflowing gutters and ventilation systems with no humidity control was “limited to nonresponsive” and “incomplete or ineffective.”

After the government initially cited a consolidated workforce for the agency’s decision to move out of the offices, the agency said in an e-mail last week that Chaudhry is to blame for its April departure. Taxpayers are locked into paying more than $476,000 annually in rent for an empty building that’s under lease until at least 2021.

In a phone interview Friday, Chaudhry denied those allegations.

“That is not true,” he said. “All of the maintenance issues brought to our attention were resolved.”

Patti Patterson, the Social Security agency’s regional communications director in At­lan­ta, said there were “significant and recurring maintenance problems” that Chaudhry failed to address during its three-year stay on Claus­sen Road, including the remediation of mold at its hearings office.

She said that because of health and safety concerns, and to make better use of space, personnel were moved to the Social Security office off Robert C. Daniel Jr. Park­way and other hearing locations. The agency also leases space in downtown Augusta’s SunTrust Bank Building.

“We relocated some employees with health concerns to the local field office before we permanently closed the hearings office,” she said.

Chaudhry said he worked with the General Service Ad­min­istration, the lease holder for the government, and that it has not informed him of mold issues.

Saudia Muwwakkil, a public affairs officer for the GSA’s Sunbelt Region, said the opposite.

In an e-mail last week, Muwwakkil said the GSA was “not aware of any issues with water intrusion or high humidity” before signing the lease in October 2010, but that since then it has “engaged the building owner in resolving ongoing mold and maintenance issues at the Claus­sen Road facility as concerns were brought forward.”

Documents show that So­­cial Security employees began reporting water-borne fungus problems almost immediately after moving in in November 2011. Before their arrival, the government completed a $644,000 renovation of the 37-year-old building. (The addition of new walls, finishes and duct work is costing taxpayers $92,000 a year above the cost of rent.)

Despite the complaints, the problems went unaddressed for nine months, until two representatives from Federal Occupational Health visited the building Aug. 20, 2012, to investigate complaints about water intrusion, indoor air quality and related health effects.

Federal health officials conducted evaluations with 17 of the facility’s 53 employees. Reported work-related symptoms included chronic headaches, dizziness, eye allergies, post-nasal drip, nasal allergy and asthma, and hives.

Overall, the group reported a high incidence of asthma and allergy problems, some of which were not present before or lessened when not in the building. Most sought medical attention with private physicians.

An indoor air quality survey conducted Oct. 26-27, 2012, found that during very heavy rainfall, water cascaded over the gutters and seeped into the building, sometimes pooling in the mailroom.

One main entry point for moisture was a 4-inch crack that extended 3 feet along the concrete floor from the outside perimeter. A musty odor was present around the opening, and a surface sample collected from the wall and wet carpet found spores typical of black mold.

Other discoveries included buckling and collapsing ceiling tiles from overflowing AC condensation; rotting and missing wood from outside walls; and traces of black mold in drywall, below leaky windows and inside blistering paint.

Two months after the survey, federal officials issued Chaudhry a “cure” letter that gave him a month to fix the building. Among the work ordered was evaluating wall cavities for mold, sealing the building’s foundation and roof, removing water-damaged materials and insulating dripping drain and refrigerant lines in the AC.

The Social Security agency moved 12 sick employees from the facility and isolated areas where health complaints were identified.

Chaudhry said he fixed all the facility’s problems, but federal documents show a different story.

In 2012, the government reported that Chaudhry sealed outside walls and installed a French drain to prevent leaks, but that he canceled an appointment for a heating and air conditioning business to examine the ventilation system.

Chaudhry denied that, saying the air conditioning is operational and that all maintenance requests were fixed.

In federal documents, the air-conditioning company’s owner reported that his staff insulated sections of drain lines, relocated thermostats and moved some duct work to enhance comfort and prevent problems, but the modifications apparently were not up to federal code.

A letter from Federal Occu­pational Health last September said there was a “remarkable” increase – between 400 and 600 percent – in airborne fungal spores in two rooms near the reception window.

Inspectors determined that both rooms were serviced by the same ventilation system, which they said “suggests something anomalous,” such as inadequate filtration of outside air or a reservoir somewhere in carpet, walls, or duct work.

Federal health officials recommended the GSA further investigate the ventilation system and retest certain areas for mold. Depending on the results, they said that “it may be necessary to accelerate the relocation process currently underway” for the Social Security office.

The GSA said it is re-evaluating its Augusta lease portfolio. Chaudhry said the group does a very good job at managing leases and that he hopes to continue to work with them.

“The building has no mold,” he said. “But I will test again.”

From 2011 to 2013, 14 of the west Augusta federal office building’s 50 rooms at 1058 Claussen Road were tested for mold. Areas affected were:

• Five offices

• Two cubicle areas

• Reception window

• Reception office

• Hallway

• Mail room

• Multipurpose room

• Hearing room

• Administrative area

Source: Federal Occupational Health

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TrulyWorried 06/27/14 - 10:02 pm
Defective Building

causing severe health hazzards to the employees forced to work inside. And now that it is empty the taxpayers are going to pay for it to the end of time???? Something does not make sense here - all the proof of health issues and illnesses and now a vacated building should be more than enough to have the building condemned. Why in the dickens are we, the taxpayers, responsible for the landlord's problems - lease or no lease - if you can't stay in it. Something needs to be done to get some more of our tax money back - just paying out without a second thought hurts us, the little guy, we are in big enough a mess now.

allhans 06/27/14 - 10:22 pm
This makes no sense, the

This makes no sense, the contract should now be null and void with no further payments made to the owner of the building.

IBeDogGone 06/27/14 - 10:36 pm
Absolutely Ridiculous!

What legal action can be taken if they have documented records the property owner has not addressed the health issues. I might lease you a car and you maintain it as it should but because of problems that cannot be corrected that are not caused by me is completely unusable after several with the dealer not being able to correct the problem am I locked into a lease, NO!!!! The person approving for this monthly rent to be paid should be held accountable.

raul 06/28/14 - 02:16 am
And liberals are for larger

And liberals are for larger government. A waste of taxpayer money for rent for an uninhabitable building.

Rscnyrs 06/28/14 - 05:21 am

44k A Month for 1800 sq ft on Clausen Rd. This is why tax payers are upset. Whoever negotiated this lease needs to be FIRED.

geecheeriverman 06/28/14 - 05:32 am
government at work

Your Government at work. If all the leases and contracts on property leased by the US Government were monitored more closely, and managed with common sense like private industry has to do, the deficit would be wiped out in short order,

nocnoc 06/28/14 - 07:25 am
Omitted Data

This property consists of roughly a 19,000 SF building located in the Interstate Park Development.

However !!!
The public can lease the same 1056 Claussen Road complex all 21,500 SF $22,167 per month, not the $40,000 a Month The FED's spend on it.
Just call Blanchard & Calhoun Real Estate Co. who is handling the property.

The owner is flexible on the terms and would consider selling the building. I guess that is one way to get rid of a MOLE Problem.


have ARC lease space to the Social Security Administration (SSA)
and recover some of that waste Taxpayer $$$$$.


The SSA could have leased

2743 Perimeter Parkway
8,700 SF $23.00/sf/year - $16,675 per month
140,000 Sq/ft

Or they could have really gone all out and leased.

#1 10th Street
10,000 SF $21.50/sf/year $17,917 per month

If they had leased this one the Near Parking deck might have gotten so use.

Another example of a business making unreasonable profits from the Federal Gov. While the Fed's demand more and more Tax $$$ for the the fewer and fewer Taxpayers.

TrulyWorried 06/28/14 - 02:34 pm
Taxpayers being "milked"

Great examples - nocnoc - (you are still here?)

corgimom 06/28/14 - 04:51 pm
Actually, the SSA has unique

Actually, the SSA has unique needs and can't just go out and rent an office building. They have to be able to modify it to meet their specific needs- like a courtroom for hearings, lots of parking very close to the doorway (because most of their clients are disabled or elderly), more than just one handicapped bathroom stall, space for a security officer, etc.

It also has to be able to handle a large volume of traffic, and have neighbors that are ok with the many homeless and mentally ill people that visit there.

Some landlords don't want to rent to them, especially because of the mentally ill client factor. They know their other tenants are likely to complain and move out.

And that's why they pay for more than the going market rate, it's harder than you think to find a landlord that wants them.

nocnoc 06/28/14 - 06:20 pm
TrulyWorried _ Not there, and not completely here either

We are moving to southern Henry Co. Farm country area.
About 1 mile from the Butt County Line.
Land and housing Cost of Living is low.
Crime is low
Lots of Bubba's, hunting, fishing, and people with good general manners.

Police don't look the other about bad manners, profanity and etc..
ZERO blaring RAP and Businesses that actually Ban Saggy Pants customers.

In fact we have seen some stores with little signs on the front doors "Pull them up or Don't Come in."

Henry Co. actually has a No Saggin Ordinance $25.00 on the 1st offense up to $200 fro repeated offenses.

Over all think South Richmond Co. 1960-70s.

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