The East Montgomery County Annex building on Hwy 59 was evacuated just after 8 a.m. Monday morning and hazardous material crews were called in after something in the air inside began making people sick.
Chief Jeff Taylor of the New Caney Fire Department said his agency responded to a medical emergency at the facility, where two law enforcement officers whose offices are inside the building complained of intense headaches. Three others had gone home sick with major headaches overnight.
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Taylor said responders detected a “distinct odor” in the building and requested the assistance of The Woodlands Fire Department Hazmat, who requested assistance from the Conroe Fire Department. They detected the presences of some chemicals inside the building. Needham Fire Rescue assisted with support and decontamination.
There were many potential reasons for concern since the building houses a county tax office and the offices of three law enforcement agencies including the Texas Department of Public Safety, The Pct. 4 Constable’s Office and the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office, where there is also a small jail area. There were no inmates in the jail at the time of the evacuation.
In the end, Taylor said the culprit turned out to be materials used in the reconstruction underway inside the building. When the Pct. 4 Justice of the Peace offices and courtroom moved to another building, a large amount of space was left to be divided amongst the law enforcement agencies. Much of the building has been gutted and rebuilt on the inside, which includes flooring.
Taylor said that flooring, specifically the glue used to secure the new carpet, was determined to be the source of the problem. Lt. Richardson from TWFD consulted hazmat experts who said the cold temperatures followed by warmer temps probably caused a chemical inversion and released formaldehyde.
The building was locked over the weekend with no public access. Without the constant opening of exterior doors, the fumes remained inside.
The chief said he was thankful Monday was a holiday, since having a full building and parking area would have made the entire operation a much bigger challenge.
The building was ventilated and more readings were taken before occupants were allowed to return.