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
“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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