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Kane County morgue temporarily shut down after mold found

GENEVA – Kane County Coroner Rob Russell temporarily shut down the county's morgue after he said black mold was found in and around the cooler and refrigerator area, leading him to outsource his work to the DuPage County Coroner's Office for the time being.

At the county's Judicial and Public Safety Committee meeting Friday, Russell said the mold was found after Mechanical Inc. started replacing parts of the coroner building freezer, which broke in November, causing two decomposing bodies to leak out over the Thanksgiving holiday. The mold was identified by an environmental scientist who suggested that Russell close the building, which he did after notifying State's Attorney Joe McMahon.

Russell then contacted DuPage County Coroner Richard Jorgensen to ask about whether Russell could rent the DuPage coroner building in the meantime.

"We are very happy and able to accommodate [Russell's] coroner's office in our facility," Jorgensen said during the meeting.

The partnership with DuPage County officially was announced during the Friday meeting. According to a statement issued Friday by the Kane County Coroner's office, "there will be no impairment of service to the public. Families and funeral homes will be notified of the new temporary location, and information will also be available on the Kane County website."

There are no concrete plans for how the partnership will be paid for, or how much it will cost, Russell and Jorgensen said. Jorgensen said he's researching a reasonable mutual aid price and would discuss it in a DuPage County meeting Tuesday. The option of storing the bodies in a hospital was discussed during the meeting, but Russell said that posed too many security issues.

The arrangement upset Kane County Board Chairman Chris Lauzen, who approved $76,000 in 2014 capital appropriations for Russell in October. This money was requested by Russell, who said he would use it to replace his cooler and freezer.

Since then, Russell used the money only to fix parts of the cooler and freezer, saying he doesn't want to waste taxpayers' dollars.

"Paying for a morgue that's unused and then paying a rental fee will end up costing us substantialy more in the long run," Lauzen said. "Certainly, we want the environment to be safe, but [Russell] has had seven months to replace the unit. If he asked to repair [the unit], then he would have gotten less than $76,000."

There is disagreement between what "the unit" is. Lauzen said it's both the cooler and freezer. Russell said the two are separate units.

"I don't want to pour money into a broken building; there are other issues with [my] building that are very significant," Russell said.

Russell said none of his employees will be laid off, since his offices can stay open during the outsourcing.

"The air from the morgue is being vented straight outside, so although there's air from the offices going into the morgue, it's not reversed," Russell said.

The incident follows debate over the possibility of a new coroner's building.

"A new [coroner's] building is being considered in the five-year capital improvement plan, but it's not the highest priority," Lauzen said. "Is [Russell] closing the morgue so he can elbow his way to the top of the priority list?"

Last year Russell went 20 percent over his budget and is on track to go over again this year, according to Lauzen.

"[A new coroner's building] needs to be addressed," Russell said. "I don't understand why other things like shooting ranges are addressed, and my building isn't."

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