The American Federation of Government Employees is calling for changes to be made in the Goodfellow Federal Complex in St. Louis, where cancer-causing chemicals have been a concern for decades. The also union requested that the government transfer all employees out of the complex.
The complex is a multi-agency administration that holds about 2,400 employees who work for the Social Security Administration, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Agriculture Department, and the General Services Administration.
The issue stems from an investigation by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) that was conducted in July 2016. OSHA noted while conducting the audit that it issued
“seven serious citations” that include hazardous contamination.
OSHA found traces of lead, asbestos, and other known cancer-causing agents. It also noted that GSA Public Building Services (PBS) “did not take adequate action to protect tenants, contractors, and visitors from hazards at the Goodfellow complex due to ineffective environmental management programs, policies, and guidance.”
From January 2002, through December 31, 2016, the GSA Public Building Services conducted 33 studies costing $1.9 million to sample and provide an analysis of the condition of the building. It found some of the same hazards that are reported in the OSHA Report.
GSA Public Building Services’ approach of conducting duplicative studies instead of taking action to remediate the hazardous contamination or prevent access to contaminated areas endangered the health of people at the complex and wasted taxpayer money, according to OSHA.
After its own studies, GSA Public Building Services was aware of the environmental hazards, but did not inform tenants, contractors, and visitors. This violated the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, which requires federal agencies to be free of hazards, and the policy requires the agency to access the unsafe condition within 30 days.
The facility’s management knowingly exposed employees to hazardous contaminants, according to OSHA.
According to an email to employees from GSA Public Building Services in this month titled “Update on Environmental Activities,” since February, it has conducted 172 water samples within 17 buildings and only found two water fixtures that contain lead above Action Levels, according to Environmental Protection Agency standards. The email cited multiple tests that were completed by GSA Public Building Services and also said it plans to periodically check the air and water quality and monitor the environmental issues long term, but it did not comply.
In a letter to U.S. Rep. Wm. Lacy Clay (D-MO), whose district includes the Goodfellow Complex, the American Federation of Government Employees stated that without the OSHA investigation in 2016 and Officer of Inspection General investigation in 2018, the government would still knowingly be exposing employees to toxic contamination at the Good Fellow Complex. The union also accused GSA Public Building Services of misrepresenting the dangers of the building after confirmation of presence of lead, cadmium, arsenic and other heavy metals.
The union said that employees also have been exposed to everyday maintenance and construction activities, which lead to disturbing the contamination and making it airborne for employees to breathe in.
Sheila Harrison, who said she has been working at the complex for 10 years, noted that employees have to wear masks to enter specific areas, and sometimes pieces of the building come falling down.
“Whenever it rains, the roof leaks,” she said. “It leaks so bad that the ceiling tiles come falling on the desk or employees.”
The union’s letter to Clay also states Johnson’s concerns about the facility.
In response, Clay urged the House Committee on Oversight and Reform to launch a congressional investigation into GSA Public Building Services, stating that it “failed to protect the health and safety of St. Louis’s federal workers.”
GSA Public Building Services had not responded to a St. Louis American request for an interview from by press time. Its response will be reported when and if received.
Francene Bethune is a St. Louis American editorial intern provided by the Emma Bowen Foundation, which recruits promising students of color and places them in multi-year paid internships at some of the nation's leading media, PR and technology companies.