CLEVELAND – After federal workers announced they were sickened by pesticides used to treat bed bugs in their downtown office, U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown is calling for a federal investigation and the union representing the workers wants the office to close.
Several workers reported symptoms including nausea, headache and dizziness when they entered the Social Security Administration office on the 7th floor of the Anthony J. Celebrezze Federal Building on February 19, a day after the pesticides were sprayed.
Video surveillance obtained by Fox 8 News on Thursday shows a Central Exterminating Company technician spraying the office and furniture with chemicals.
An Ohio Department of Agriculture investigation report states “it would seem” the technician used an unintended pesticide product and improperly applied it. It also found that he may have cross contaminated with a product banned for indoor use.
The office closed for nearly a week for cleaning, reopening after an independent inspection by an Industrial Hygienist from Federal Occupational Health determined it was safe, according to SSA Regional Communications Director Doug Nguyen.
Representatives with the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), which represents workers in the office, said in light of the ODA report’s findings, they are drafting a letter to SSA requesting the office close until a more thorough inspection can be done. Nguyen maintained that as recently as last week, SSA officials and a union representative discussed the report with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, which determined no danger to employees or the public.
On Wednesday, Brown sent a letter to the regional administrator of the General Services Administration, which owns the federal building, seeking an investigation into the “deeply troubling” incident. He said he is seeking answers to a series of questions to ensure workers are safe and that this won’t happen again.
“When you go to work, you shouldn't expect to be exposed to toxic chemicals,” Brown said. “The federal government has a responsibility that if we're going to hire a private company to do this, that that company has got to act properly when it applies these pesticides.”
A spokesperson for GSA said the agency is looking into this matter and is “prepared to work with the appropriate federal government agencies to ensure that office and public spaces are safe for both building tenants and visitors. Earlier this year, Federal Occupational Health visited the site after the incident was reported and conducted testing confirming the space was safe for occupancy.”
Twenty-three chairs sprayed by the exterminator were recently donated to the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland’s Fatima Family Center for use in its lobby. A spokesman for Catholic Charities released the following statement to Fox 8 News:
“Yesterday we were notified of the history of the furniture, which had not been disclosed previously. Upon learning the new information, we immediately removed the chairs from any public area and contacted Social Security to remove the chairs as soon as possible. To our knowledge, no clients or staff have experienced any health issues do to the furniture donation at this time.”
The U.S. EPA is reviewing this case.
ODA said it did not find sufficient evidence to penalize Central Exterminating Company. Central Exterminating provided a statement to Fox 8 News stating that it has purchased new equipment and trained employees to avoid a repeat of mistakes made in the SSA office.
“The application method was in error, and we apologize for that. We now have re-trained all our technicians in proper application methods,” company Vice President Chuck Kettler said in the statement.
As for possible contamination with small amounts of a chemical banned indoors, Central Exterminating said it has purchased new equipment to be used solely for bed bug treatment to prevent future issues.