ST. LOUIS — After a whistleblower revealed there was toxic exposure at a St. Louis federal facility, Missouri’s two U.S. Senators are raising questions about why workers were deliberately misled about the health risks.
Senators Josh Hawley and Roy Blunt are pushing for answers after workers and a childcare facility were exposed to contaminants including asbestos, lead, and mercury at the Goodfellow Federal Center. About 2,000 people worked at the facility before the pandemic. About 80 remain in the building. Many were relocated to other facilities, while others are working remotely.
“We need to know why the GSA [General Services Administration] failed to tell families, parents, and kids since 2002,” said Hawley. “At least they knew these children were being exposed to toxic materials, including asbestos at the Goodfellow Center. Other reports show the government knew about it, and they did not inform workers and children.”
Authorities said the contamination was widespread and longstanding, and officials also deliberately misled people about the health risks associated with being in the building.
“That is a big problem, and I want to know when GSA knew about it and who suppressed this information and evidence from families from workers, and I want to know what they are going to do to make it right,” said Hawley.
A whistleblower alerted investigators about the toxic contamination. A report from the US Office of Special Counsel, posted on Nov. 5, details the failed efforts to mitigate exposure to toxic contaminants that put employees and children at risk. They alerted the president and congress about the ongoing issue.
Ward Morrow is the Assistant to General Counsel for union employees.
“We have been fighting this thing with a whistleblower for a while now,” said Morrow. “The recent report validated over 150 toxic chemicals in facilities. We know the answer to some of the questions, but GSA has been covering it up. We need help for the people who work there. Those people’s health has been affected, cancer that may not show up for years.”
Matt Medder said he was diagnosed with terminal cancer in May of 2016. Medder worked at the Goodfellow federal location. He tried an experimental treatment and survived. Medder said so far he’s paid out of pocket close to $20,000 dollars in medical bills and has not been reimbursed through workman’s comp.
“I put two and two together because of all the hazards, that’s what got me sick. I’m was still taking cancer treatments but once I finished. I decided to retire myself and took a 20% reduction in pay cause I did not want to get sick again,” said Medder.
Senators Hawley and Blunt sent the following letter to the Biden administration:
Dear Administrator Carnahan:
We write with concern over reports that GSA officials have failed to provide proper oversight over the Goodfellow Federal Center, in St. Louis Missouri, which exposed workers to toxic and explosive materials.
According to a report from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, workers and a childcare facility at the Goodfellow Federal Facility in St. Louis were exposed to “widespread, longstanding” contaminants including asbestos, lead, mercury, arsenic and explosive materials.”
The report says GSA officials “deliberately misled tenants about the well-documented health risks at the Goodfellow Federal Center in north St. Louis.” We recognize that the report was referring to events that occurred before your tenure as GSA Administrator.
In a letter from the U.S. Office of Special Council (OSC) to President Biden, that office reported that officials knew about these contaminations since at least 2002. The OSC letter also states that officials did not take substantial action to notify workers or tenant agencies of the dangers and that officials issued overtly misleading communications to employees that exhibited a “pattern of suppressing or downplaying risks.”
The letter also referenced a response from the Federal Occupational Health (FOH) agency during a recent investigation, which reported that there was a “significant pattern of ongoing, self-perpetuating management defects including a lack of oversight by and requirements/orders from the GSA central office, the site/region’s deficient environmental management systems, their management culture and history of noncompliance, group think, a disbelief/discounting of the opinions and recommendations of subject matter experts, absent or overtly misleading hazard communication and a poor performance incentive system…”
If this continues to be the case it is unacceptable. Federal officials should be providing proper oversight and protection for workers, not ignoring worker safety. At a bare minimum, Missouri workers deserve a safe work environment and honest stewardship from supervisors and their government officials.
Please provide the following information by December 15, 2021:
What is your office doing to assist workers at the Goodfellow Federal Center who have been exposed to dangerous or toxic materials?
What is your plan to ensure workers at the Goodfellow Federal Center do not suffer financial harm, loss of employment, unreasonable relocation standards, or any other financial burden resulting from facility changes or facility closure efforts?
What are you doing to discipline officials in your office who misled, attempted to downplay, or hid the dangerous working conditions for employees at the Goodfellow Federal Center? Please include a list of all disciplinary actions take thus far.
What plan does your office have to ensure better oversight strategies and management policies for facilities which have been reported to have dangerous working conditions?
How is your office planning to ensure that claims of unsafe workplaces are properly investigated in light of the recent findings at the Goodfellow Federal Center?