Union wants state buildings tested for hazards

August 22, 2013 • State News

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — A public employees union urged Gov. Susan Martinez’s administration on Wednesday to test state buildings near downtown Santa Fe for possible environmental contamination to determine whether it’s a source of worker health problems.

Communications Workers of America local president Donald Alire said workers in the Public Education Department [auth] and other agencies have complained of respiratory problems and other illnesses for several years.

The union wants testing for hazardous vapors that could seep into the buildings from possible contamination in the soil and groundwater from leaking gasoline storage tanks, as well as chemicals from dry cleaners, automotive repairs shops and other businesses that operated in the area in the past.

The union released a 2010 study by the state Environment Department that identified downtown areas with a high risk of potential contamination. Some parcels of land are near the Education Department’s building, the Bataan Memorial Building, which houses several agencies, and an 80-year-old state office building that’s connected to a newer complex for the attorney general’s office.

The study was done for the city of Santa Fe, but Alire said the union is highlighting the findings “not to panic people but to make sure our government leaders are using the tools at their disposal to identify and remediate contamination, which is having a debilitating effect on people working in areas that harmful vapor intrusion may exist.”

Tim Korte, a spokesman for the General Services Department, which is responsible for government buildings, said the agency will review the study but had no immediate comment about its findings of potential environmental contamination risks.

He said the department “will always work to make sure that our workplace environment is safe and secure for all employees and visitors and to mitigate any potential hazard or threat.”

There also has been work on the education building in the past two years to deal with mold, asbestos and ventilation problems.

The department has detected elevated levels of radon in some government buildings in Santa Fe, including the Villagra Building that’s part of the attorney general’s complex. The building was built as a New Deal project during the Great Depression.

There is groundwater contamination near downtown Santa Fe from gasoline that leaked from underground storage tanks. Contaminated soil and water were removed during the construction of a district courthouse, which is about a block from the state office buildings that are the subject of state worker concerns.

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