Air quality of state buildings under scrutiny

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(Host) A legislative committee is looking at the issue of indoor air quality in state buildings. Two state employees told the House Institutions Committee that they got sick after new carpet was installed in their state offices.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) The employees work for the Department of Banking, Securities and Health Care Administration in Montpelier. Soon after new carpet was installed last year, they came down with a multitude of health problems.

(Jerry) “Within an hour I developed severe headaches, severe sinus aches, severely burning lungs.”

(Dillon) Donna Jerry is a policy analyst for the Health Care Administration. She emphasized that she was testifying as a private citizen, and not on behalf of her agency.

Jerry said she’s developed an acute sensitivity to chemicals following repeated exposure to the carpet. She said she’d have to deal with the condition for the rest of her life.

(Jerry) “If I can save one person from not having to go through what I personally have been through then it’s going to be worth it to me to kind of stick my neck out a little bit and take some risks. Because until it happens to you, you just assume that something like this will never happen. It’s been a very rude awakening.”

(Dillon) Linda Kemp told the committee that she was already sensitive to the chemicals – known as “volatile organic compounds” — before the carpet was installed.

Kemp and Donna Jerry have been working at home, but are supposed to return to the office building once the carpet has been removed. The state has told them they could be laid off if their health problems persist after they go back. Kemp says that leaves her with a tough choice.

(Kemp) “It seems unfair that I should have to choose between my health and my livelihood. I should be able to go to work and do my job and not have to worry if somewhere down the road I’ll develop cancer etc. from an exposure that could be prevented. “

(Dillon) Tasha Wallis is the state buildings commissioner. She said the state works hard to promptly resolve indoor air complaints.

(Wallis) “Generally we send a staff member over to test the air and investigate the space and report back to the complaining party, to make sure that they understand what we’ve looked for and what we’ve found.”

(Dillon) But the indoor air issue may not be over at the Department of Banking, Securities and Health Care Administration. A science consultant has told the state that it may be very difficult to clean the air just by removing the carpet. The consultant said that the carpet chemicals may have been absorbed by the ceiling tile, furniture and other materials in the office.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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