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Dangerous lead levels at Federal Government Center in north city

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ST. LOUIS (KTVI) - A potential health risk has workers concerned at the Federal Government Center on Goodfellow Blvd. Hundreds of people work at the north St. Louis complex.

The General Services Administration confirms elevated levels of lead dust have been discovered in an area inside one of the buildings.

The complex, built in 1941, was used to manufacture ammunition for World War II. It currently serves as a government office complex. The lead dust was found in area where veterans’ files are stored.

Part of a statement from GSA reads: “Earlier this week, GSA learned through an independent OSHA evaluation that elevated concentrations of lead dust exists on top of file storage units and other horizontal surfaces within record storage areas of the VA’s Record Management Center (Building 104). Existence of this lead dust poses health concerns if the dust is disturbed. 29 employees were sent home Wednesday. They have since been reassigned to other work, according to the GSA."

The president of the union representing workers said his members have been asked to see a doctor.

“They’re asking us to take blood tests so that they could check the concentration levels in the employees" blood,” said Bill Tyler, AFGE Local 2192.

Tyler said he wants the problem addressed as soon as possible. He said there are still plenty of unknowns, including how the problems will be addressed.

“We’re going to need to know how they’re going to clean that up and how they’re going to keep it clean for the safety of the employees,” Tyler said.

Several employees expressed concerns but declined being interviewed for fear of retribution. Both the GSA and the union president said workers could be asked to wear latex gloves and safety gowns. Work in the area has been stopped until a solution is reached.

Here is the entire GSA statement:

The existence of contaminants at the Federal Center stems from materials used during early ammunition manufacturing processes starting in 1941. This complex is a WWII vintage Army Ammunition Plant that was converted to office space beginning in 1966. Contamination is a legacy issue where the term “legacy” refers to hazardous substances manufactured and put into use before the enactment of modern federal and state environmental laws.

The soil in the basement crawl spaces and beneath some of the buildings has been found to contain varying amounts of asbestos, organic chemicals, and heavy metals. Access to these spaces require an approved job specific safety plan prior to entering. Some areas of the building’s interior also contain varying amounts of lead dust -- particularly in areas above suspended ceiling tiles.

In recent months, air samples conducted for asbestos and lead dust in occupied space are all below laboratory detection limits and are not considered to pose exposure concerns for tenants or visitors.

Earlier this week, GSA learned through an independent OSHA evaluation that elevated concentrations of lead dust exists on top of file storage units and other horizontal surfaces within record storage areas of the VA’s Record Management Center (Building 104). Existence of this lead dust poses health concerns if the dust is disturbed.

In response to this information, VA management has stopped work in the affected area temporarily until the full extent of this issue is analyzed, and if needed, new work procedures implemented. Preliminary recommendations from OSHA and NIOSH (National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health) include the use of personal protective equipment (latex gloves and safety gowns). Medical testing is also being encouraged for those known to work in the space.