By TIM ROWDEN
Congressman Lacy Clay (D-Mo.) is demanding a federal investigation into the Goodfellow Federal Center in St. Louis where employees were exposed to cancer-causing chemicals.
Workers and leaders of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) Locals 1136, 3354, 2192 and 96, which represent employees of the Social Security Administration, Department of Agriculture and Veterans Affairs are speaking out about conditions at the facility where a total of 83 hazardous substances have been found, and demanding the “immediate transfer” of some 2,400 federal employees who work at the facility.
Wil Grant, president AFGE Local 3354 (USDA) says reporting from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the General Services Administration (GSA) has shown the presence of the contaminants at the facility. GSA has known about the situation for years, Grant says, but management of GSA’s Public Buildings Service has been slow to act.
AFGE reached out to Rep. Clay, whose district includes the federal center, asking for help earlier this month.
Clay, who is a senior member of the House Oversight and Reform Committee is calling on Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) to launch an immediate investigation into the GSA’s Public Building Services Management.
In a letter to Cummings, Clay said the GSA had properly concluded that “the PBS failed to protect the health and safety of St. Louis’ federal workers housed at the Goodfellow Federal Center, adding that PBS management “failed to take adequate action to protect tenants, contractors and visitors from hazards at the Goodfellow Federal Center due to ineffective environmental management programs, policies and guidance.
“It appears the deficiencies of PBS’s environmental program are systematic and cultural at both the regional and national levels, based on continued employee contentions and previous audits,” Clay wrote.
“Federal employees at the Goodfellow location have repeatedly complained of numerous unexplained health conditions that may be related to exposure to mold, toxins and other dangerous contaminants.”
‘NO ONE IS BEING MOVED’
Grant, along with the presidents of AFGE Locals 1136, 3354 and 96 are traveling to Washington this week to meet with Clay and other members of Congress, including Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), who also has constituents who work at the Goodfellow Center and sent a personal letter to the AFGE locals expressing her concern.
“We feel it was a great start,” Grant said of Clay’s call for an investigation. “We’re happy that he’s pressing for it. Our meeting with him in Washington is to make sure that he has a coalition behind him.”
Speaking to reporters are a rally outside the Goodfellow Center earlier this month, Grant said “We have had quite a few people that have passed away from cancer suddenly. We have one area where three people are in Stage 4 cancer. We have respiratory issues in some areas. It’s just really weird to have all these coworkers with fatal conditions and no one is being moved… We want to be off of this facility.”
AFGE’s concern over conditions at the Goodfellow center stem from OSHA, in which inspectors documented several “serious” instances of unsafe working conditions, as well as a follow-up report last March from GSA’s Office of Inspector General.
Repeated testing over the last three years has revealed the building, which dates back to 1941, has traces of 83 hazardous substances potentially harmful to the health of employees who come in contact with them.
GSA conducted its own analysis in November 2016 and found lead, cadmium, arsenic and other heavy metals in the ventilation system.
An air sample analysis performed since then showed that, at the time of the sampling, asbestos and lead were no longer in the air at the facility, but the union says GSA failed to follow OSHA’s recommendation to prevent contaminants from migrating from building basements and tunnels into upstairs offices or show that it has addressed the other 81 hazardous substances in the building.
According to a March 2019 report issued by the GSA’s own Office of Inspector General, GSA’s Public Building Service (PBS) spent more than $1.9 million on duplicative environmental sampling and analysis confirming hazards they already knew to be present but “failed to comprehensively address the deficiencies” or properly inform employees of the potential health risks.
The same GSA managers who have failed to act at Goodfellow, AFGE notes, also were admonished by the agency’s Inspector General in 2010 for endangering the health and safety of employees at the Bannister Federal Complex in Kansas City, MO, where one employee died in 2006.