WASHINGTON, D.C. — The American Federation of Government Employees, the country’s largest federal employee union, is demanding the immediate closure of a Social Security Administration claims office in Ironton, Ohio due to a black mold outbreak. The mold outbreak which was first noticed two years ago, has left nine out 11 workers ill, all of which have filed workers’ compensation claims, and poses a threat to the hundreds of people who go in and out of the contaminated office every week.
“I’ve asked and demanded they close the office,” said AFGE Local 3448 President David Sheagley. “The employees are experiencing respiratory problems and headaches among other symptoms because of the repeated exposure to the mold. Around 100 people are in and out of that office every day – retirees, the disabled – and they are being exposed to black mold. This is a dire public safety issue.”
A local representative first observed the mold early last summer and it has now since spread under and onto the seams of the vinyl wallpaper in the office. The only thing done so far by building management is covering the mold with clear tape – a precaution certainly not outlined by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA).
“There’s no enforceable standard when it comes to mold and air quality,” said Sheagley. He does agree that while it is somewhat established, what is defined as a “hazard” is unclear. Sheagley cites Article 9, Section 4 of their 2005 contract as saying that an abatement plan will be made if there is a hazard. Both the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have agreed that the mold is unsafe and unhealthy but the hazard has yet to be confirmed, meaning no abatement plan. Sheagley says that the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is working with the Federal Occupational Health (FOH) agency to do abatement.
FOH conducted inspections in the office September of last year and this August, but the reports from the September inspection were released this July, and Sheagley says he and other leaders were not informed of either inspections. Reports indicated moisture problems around windows, which have since been worked on but not fixed, issues with the HVAC system, and filters needing to be changed. The employees and the union have not been told whether or not any of the recommended steps by FOH have been taken.
A new office space is currently being built but will not be ready until next summer at the earliest. “Until then, the employees and the SSA claimants coming in to the office deserve to do their business in a safe, mold-free environment,” concluded Sheagley.