Under your skin



Published: Tuesday, January 6, 2009 10:38 PM EST
What’s got you feeling so blue?

For hundreds of Transportation Security Administration workers across the country, including several at Pittsburgh International Airport, it’s their new blue uniform shirts, according to the union that represents them.

The TSA traded their old white shirts for blue button-downs in the fall, saying it would make the agency’s workers more readily identifiable at airports and give off a more professional appearance.

But Emily Ryan, spokeswoman for the American Federation of Government Employees, said the new shirts wound up giving hundreds of TSA workers across the country skin irritation, rashes, lightheadedness, and respiratory and other problems because some of them contained formaldehyde.

“We had them tested, and they showed levels of formaldehyde that we consider unsafe,” Ryan said, noting the health problems were linked to shirts made in Honduras.

It doesn’t appear that the health problems — first reported in St. Louis — forced any employees to take extended sick leave, Ryan said.

The union wants the TSA to recall all the shirts and replace them, Ryan said.

Ryan said “there were a few TSOs (transportation security officers) who reported problems in Pittsburgh,” but she was unable to provide a specific number. Kim Kraynak, president of AFGE Local 332 based in Pittsburgh, did not return calls from The Times.

TSA spokesman Ann Davis said the agency received a handful of complaints regarding the new shirts, “certainly not the hundreds reported by the AFGE.”

Davis said the TSA sent some of the shirts that caused problems to a third-party lab for testing and they were “found to be well under the acceptable limits for all known irritants, including formaldehyde.”

While the TSA has no plans to replace all the new shirts, Davis said the agency does offer a 100 percent cotton alternative for workers who want them.

Tom Fontaine can be reached online at tfontaine@timesonline.com.


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