Whistleblower sends alert about toxic exposure at a St. Louis federal facility

Missouri

ST. LOUIS, Mo. – Missouri’s US senators are demanding answers after workers and a childcare facility were exposed to contaminants including asbestos, lead, mercury, arsenic at the Goodfellow Federal Center. The contamination was widespread and longstanding. Officials also deliberately misled people about the health risks associated with being in the building.

The Goodfellow Federal Center is a 23-building campus on 62.5 acres in north St. Louis. Many of the buildings there were built in 1941 and it functioned as an Army ammunition plant to support World War II. The Army transferred ownership to the General Services Administration in 1966 and it was then renovated the campus into a suburban office park.

A whistleblower alerted investigators about the toxic contamination. A report from the U.S. Office of Special Counsel posted on November 5, 2021 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.

“I would like to thank the whistleblower for their courage in revealing widespread environmental contamination and years of exposure to hazardous materials,” writes Special Counsel Henry J. Kerner. “Officials had been aware of these conditions but downplayed the risk, discounting expert guidance and advice, rather than taking appropriate corrective action. While I applaud the agency’s actions to close the Goodfellow complex, I strongly encourage the agency to ensure that employees, tenants, and contractors receive appropriate medical screening and care.”

Missouri Senators Josh Hawley and Roy Blunt sent this letter to the Biden administration today:

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?

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