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    Post: EPA Workers Say Building Is Making Them Sick

    Posted by Sharon on 11/01/10

    North Carolina building making them sick despite attempts
    to fix problems

    ....“You're having throat problems. Your eyes are watering.
    You're having, possibly, difficult breathing,” said Silvia
    Saracco, the president of the union that represents many of
    those workers. “They want to come to work. They want to do
    their jobs. And their health is being negatively affected.
    They're having a hard time breathing."

    A report done in 2009, written by an EPA contractor and
    obtained by the Investigative Reporting Workshop,
    highlights years of problems dating back to 2003. At that
    time, laboratory staff reported "excessive indoor
    particulate levels," i.e., toxic dust, some of which was
    contaminated with metals. Since then, the report noted,
    workers in two buildings reported symptoms, including
    coughs, eye irritation and chest pain with inhalation after
    a “dump” of particulate matter occurred. “Some individuals
    had persistent symptoms for many days prior to eventual
    resolution, and some had symptoms recur when they tried to
    return to their usual laboratories,” the report said.

    The study focused chiefly on Building-B, which consists of
    laboratories and office space. It concluded that the
    complex did not have “Sick Building Syndrome,” but
    acknowledged that some workers were likely suffering
    from "Building-Related Symptoms." The report also called
    for additional sampling of indoor air contaminants.

    EPA employees interviewed by the WRAL and the Workshop
    asked not to be named, for fear of retaliation by EPA
    officials. One said it's still common for small pieces of
    rusted metal to fall out of the air and land on computer
    keyboards. Surfaces in labs and offices often look like
    they have a thick coating of dust. It isn’t typical office
    dust, however. Tests showed the presence of metal and glass
    fragments that were not found in the air outside of the

    Inside, the air has been so bad that electrical components
    of some lab equipment have corroded. The damaged equipment
    was fixed quickly, but the cause of toxic particulates
    contaminating the equipment remained elusive.

    Workers got little support from top officials

    MaryJane Selgrade, who retired in July as acting director
    of the Experimental Toxicology Division of the Research
    Triangle Park campus, says EPA was slow to respond to
    employee concerns about air quality.

    "Early on it seemed they cared more about the equipment
    than the people," Selgrade said. "There was almost a sense
    of apathy. They reacted slowly. It was frustrating for

    She said workers who developed health problems were
    encouraged to go to the EPA health unit, but they got
    little support.

    “They told people to go to the health unit when they had
    problems,” she said. “But when they went, the health unit
    was not very receptive, for a long time. People were very
    turned off by that.”

    One man in her unit, Selgrade said, reacted so badly to the
    particles that he had to be rushed to the emergency room.
    His hand had swollen up so much that hospital workers had
    to cut off his wedding ring. “It impacted his career,” she
    said. “He couldn’t go into his office.”

    Saracco, president of the American Federation of Government
    Employees Local 3347, which represents the workers, said
    the agency was slow to address the problems. "I think it
    became a real issue when management realized it was
    affecting the equipment," he said....

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