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Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Valuing Buildings Over Employee Health

By Andrew Robbins

 CSMS Magazine Staff WriterMy impetus for writing It Took My Breath Away began in 2000 when Defense Finance Accounting Services (DFAS) executive officer, Mr. Tom Heavyside, challenged me to prove to him that renovating the Bean Center was jeopardizing employee health. To my amazement, the proof I provided management was met first with talk of my firing and finally with ‘reasonable accommodation’ at an alternate work site. Moreover, the renovation marched on with hundreds of innocent unprotected employees in its midst.I continued researching and documenting as Mr. Lou Mendyk and others appeared on the 2003 NBC news broadcast, Air of Danger. Collectively these employees voiced their health and safety concerns. Mr. Mendyk is quoted, “If enough people start asking questions, maybe the truth will come out.” “I think they [management] told us what we wanted to hear”, said one woman who asked not to be identified. “I think they [management] lied to keep us from having hysteria.” [By the close of 2006, both Tom and Lou had died untimely cancer deaths.]In the early 1990s, the Base Realignment and Closure Act (BRAC) required the Department of Defense to close several installations. Fort Benjamin Harrison, home of the Bean Center, was on the list. Under BRAC the Grace Commission’s staff toured the Bean Center and then recommended the building be “condemned and dismantled”. The financial impact on the City of Indianapolis’ economy—losing several thousand jobs—energized Indiana’s senators and representatives. They ignored the Commission’s recommendation and lobbied for a selfish local spending spree.The renovation included replacing the original functioning windows with windows that do not open. This action created a greenhouse effect that, when combined with a leaking roof and ill-designed ventilation system, promoted mold and fungal growth. The project ran out of money and sections of building renovation were discontinued.Resuming restoration now would release toxic dust, with limited opportunity to ventilate.Further complicating the situation, the city of Indianapolis is in the heart of the worst air in the Nation. Indianapolis and surrounding communities are located in the center of the Midwest’s industrial manufacturing base. According to the American Lung Association, the worst breathable air in the Nation now hovers over the Midwest. In 2006, the American Cancer Society nationally estimated 162,460 lung cancer deaths. Indiana’s lung cancer incidents were projected at 19,554. What happens to building occupants health when bad indoor air is exchanged for worse outdoor air?Six years and 130 million taxpayer dollars later health risks continue to linger for employees working in the Major General Emmett J. Bean Center. In January 2006, concerned employees contacted the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and requested a health hazard evaluation of this structure, which is managed by General Services Administration (GSA).NIOSH’s report stated: “Based on conversations with a local pulmonologist and employees, as well as a review of Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) logs, employees have experienced upper and lower respiratory symptoms and have developed asthma as a result of exposure to dampness and/or mold in the [GSA] building. … With continued exposure, these symptoms may become chronic and persistent, making the symptoms more debilitating. … These environmental conditions constitute a public health problem for employees that requires remediation.”In Washington, our country is represented by legislators preoccupied with economic growth. They are ignorant of scientific advances and they exhibit complete disregard for citizens’ health. From a mesothelioma conference held in Chicago Nicholas Vogelzang, M.D. of the Nevada Cancer Institute stated, “To summarize the prevailing attitude of our elected representatives: They don’t value life, they just don’t value life.”What could make this bad situation worse? NIOSH never sent an investigative agent to the Bean Center. They compiled their report from afar using only telephone interviews and GSA source documents. When questioned the Center for Disease Control’s response was, “We neither have the manpower nor the financial resources to investigate every request.”Ah, America’s Illusion of Health and Safety! Congressional funding readily available for questionable renovation projects, but as casualties emerge, not a dollar available to properly investigate health concerns.Note: Andrew Robbins is the author of It Took My Breath Away: One Man’s Experience May Save Your Life.Also see The EPA’s Unconscionable Silence

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5 COMMENTS

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