Pesticide problem: Downtown CLE workers say they got sick after bed bug treatment

CLEVELAND, Ohio-- Workers at the Social Security Administration office in Cleveland said they became ill due to the improper spraying of pesticides to treat bed bugs in their office, and they're warning the public may have been put at risk.

“My symptoms were vomiting, headache, dizziness, tremors in my arms and legs,” said Maureen Gaughan, a claims rep who said she is among nine sickened.

She said she and coworkers smelled a chemical smell when they entered their office, on the 7th floor of the Anthony J. Celebrezze Federal Building downtown on February 19, a day after the pesticides were sprayed.

Representatives with the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) took their concerns public in a press conference Friday morning.

They said the office remained open to the public for 45 minutes before being shut down for about a week to be cleaned and aired out.

“It was totally mishandled from day one,” said Gaughan.

An Ohio Department of Agriculture investigation report, publicly released two weeks ago, states “it would seem” a technician with Cleveland-based Central Exterminating Company used an unintended pesticide product and improperly applied it. It also found the technician may have cross contaminated with a product banned for indoor use.

“What happened on February 19th was a reckless disregard for public safety,” AFGE Local 3448 President Michael Murphy said.

AFGE said it wants accountability from agency management, denied workers compensation claims to be approved and visitors to the office that day to know they could be at risk.

“They may have went home for that weekend and thought they had the flu, a stomach problem, a myriad of conditions or symptoms that they have no idea may have been picked up at the Social Security office on that day,” AGFE Region Health and Safety Coordinator Rick Hanna said.

An ODA spokesperson said it did not find evidence anyone broke the law, but it has forwarded the case to the U.S. EPA for review.

The Social Security Administration provided a statement saying it is committed to providing a safe environment to employees and the public:

“Going forward, we will continue to work with our employees and help them with their workers compensation claims. We are working with health and safety experts to determine any additional actions needed.”

“We're trying to make headway to make sure it doesn't happen again,” Hanna said, indicating that the union is working toward policy change that would ban chemical bed bug treatment. “Unfortunately. we can't go back and undo what was done on that particular date.”

A representative for Central Exterminating told Fox 8 the company has changed its protocol regarding treatments to prevent future problems but declined further comment.