Reagan Building Air Quality Concerns

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NTEU Chapter 280 helps employees with many concerns. Most recently we worked to ensure safe and healthful working conditions were restored after a flood in the Reagan Building due to a leak in a water pipe.

Based upon our inspection, we discovered that either the new carpet, new paint, or carpet glue was off-gassing. Below is an email we sent to EPA facilities asking them to adopt remedial measures....

Facilities and OARM Staff,

NTEU Chapter 280 appreciates the opportunity to inspect the restored Reagan space prior to re-opening. As we noted in our walk-throughs, there is a chemical odor that likely stems from either the new carpet, the carpet glue, or the fresh paint. During the walk-through we recommended that OARM and GSA increase the fresh-air-component of air entering the Reagan office tower until the culprits are done off-gassing. I want to check with you to see if our recommended protective procedure is being implemented and if not, why not?

Our recommendation is consistent with the recommendations in the material safety data sheet (MSDS), which notes that possible effects of the glue include “skin and respiratory tract irritation.” The MSDS recommends to mitigate potential health effects to “use local exhaust. Do not use closed air- circulating system. Open windows and doors if necessary.” Given the problems EPA has had in the past with new carpeting, it is likely that the glues and other materials used in the carpeting are also still off-gassing, along with the paint.

This is not a theoretical risk as Chapter 280 has already received one complaint from a non-bargaining unit USAID employee; USAID shares the ventilation system with EPA. That employee noted in her email that “[a]s of last Thurs & Friday, I’ve been having allergic reactions. I have a great sensitivity to mold. I sit on the 4th floor in the USAID side of the building and believe the air system is one and the same w EPA.” It is likely that her reactions are due to chemical exposure rather than mold, but both mold buildup and chemical off-gassing can be somewhat mitigated by our suggested solution.

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration(OSHA) notes that:

“Many factors affect IAQ. These factors include poor ventilation (lack of outside air), problems controlling temperature, high or low humidity, recent remodeling, and other activities in or near a building that can affect the fresh air coming into the building. Sometimes, specific contaminants like dust from construction or renovation, mold, cleaning supplies, pesticides, or other airborne chemicals (including small amounts of chemicals released as a gas over time) may cause poor IAQ.

The right ventilation and building care can prevent and fix IAQ problems. Although OSHA does not have IAQ standards, it does have standards about ventilation and standards on some of the air contaminants that can be involved in IAQ problems.”

EPA also notes in a joint publication with the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) that:

”Improving ventilation to provide outside air to occupants and to dilute and/or exhaust pollutants”

Given that EPA, NIOSH, and OSHA recommend increasing ventilation, given that we already have one complaint, and given that we all smelled the chemical smell in the restored space, it would be helpful if we could quickly move in the direction of solving this before it becomes a larger problem. Please update us on the status.

Thank you.


Joe Edgell, Senior Vice President, National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU), Chapter 280
1200 Pennsylvania Ave. N.W., Room 3376 / MC UN200-T, Washington, DC 20460