As reported by The Hartford Courant, October 12, 2005.

Experts: Move Workers

Building Causes Symptoms To Recur

By William Hathaway

As state officials study whether a 20-story office building at 25 Sigourney St. in Hartford is safe enough to house 1,100 state employees, some health experts recommended Tuesday that the state move out workers with respiratory ailments.

Many of the state workers who developed pneumonia or asthma get better when they stay out of the building, but even after $7.5 million of renovation work, they suffer a recurrence of symptoms after they return to work there, said Eileen Storey, professor of occupational and environmental medicine at the University of Connecticut Health Center in Farmington, who has interviewed workers at the building.

"It isn't working," said Storey, who testified at an informational hearing held by the Labor Committee. "It's time to find another solution."

Gov. M. Jodi Rell has asked state officials to commission a study on the building's safety and recommend what to do with it by Jan. 15.

The remediation work, aimed at removing indoor pollutants such as mold caused by water damage, was triggered by a 2001 federal study that showed that people who worked in the building suffered a disproportionate number of respiratory diseases.

Storey also has been studying the health of 31 workers from the state Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, who moved into the building within the last six months, after renovations were finished. Storey said it is too early to tell if the newcomers also suffered from an unexpected number of respiratory cases, a key to assessing whether the renovations helped make the building safe for new workers.

Many state workers who previously were exposed to indoor pollutants have become sensitive to those allergens, meaning exposure to even small amounts of indoor pollutants can trigger symptoms, said Dr. John Santilli Jr., who long has argued the building represents a health threat to state workers.

The health risks to workers are great enough that the building should be torn down and all workers relocated, said Michael A. Winkler, president of Local 4200 of the Administrative and Residual Employees Union, which represents roughly half the people who work in the building.

Winkler estimated that about 200 employees at 25 Sigourney St. are currently seeking medical attention for respiratory ailments, but few have been offered new jobs or placed in new work environments. Also, many of the ill workers have been unable to collect workers' compensation because of difficulties proving their illness was related to conditions in the building, he said.

The state already has spent $68 million to purchase and renovate 25 Sigourney St., said Robert Genuario, secretary of the Office of Policy and Management, and officials should wait until a study on the building's condition is completed before deciding its fate.

Genuario promised to look into the workers' compensation issue and said Rell remains committed to the safety of the workers at the office building.