USDA to move workers out of toxic building

The Department of Agriculture is moving 1,000 Rural Development department employees out of the Goodfellow Federal Complex in St. Louis, Mo., to a new location in the city.

The Department of Agriculture is moving 1,000 Rural Development department employees out of the Goodfellow Federal Complex in St. Louis, Mo., to a new location in the city.

The Goodfellow Center was originally built in 1941 by the Department of Defense as a munitions plant. The Army transferred ownership and operation of 62.5-acre, 23-building campus in 1996 to the General Services Administration, which then renovated it into a suburban office park, according to GSA

For years, employees from the USDA, Department of Veterans Affairs and Social Security Administration working at the facility have suffered from unusual medical problems. Toxic contamination was confirmed in 2016 after an investigation by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration that listed 83 hazardous substances present at the site and cited GSA’s Public Building Service for seven violations. Those infractions included instances where “staff and visitors were uninformed about their exposure to toxic substances; lead dust was found in work areas; and (the) employer did not provide information to employees on the presence of hazardous chemicals and lead-containing dust.” PBS completed the required steps to address the citations included in OSHA’s report.

In March 2019, the GSA’s Office of Inspector General dug further, evaluating PBS’s response to environmental issues identified at the Goodfellow complex prior to the OSHA notice. It found that “PBS’s approach of conducting duplicative studies instead of taking action to remediate the hazardous contamination or prevent access to contaminated areas endangered the health of people at the complex and wasted taxpayer money.”

GSA announced last year that it “would cease operating at the contaminated Goodfellow Complex, but agencies have been dragging their feet in moving employees out,” the American Federation of Government Employees said in a June 29 statement. AFGE has been pushing for the closure of the facility for years, filing whistleblower and OSHA complaints, calling for congressional investigations, requesting transfer of affected employees, holding town hall meetings and staging protests at the complex.

So far, AFGE said, all of the VA employees have been moved out, and SSA has plans to relocate employees to a new location, which is scheduled to be ready for occupancy by November.

AFGE said it worked with Rep. Wm. Lacy Clay (D-Mo,), who led the charge and brought along a bipartisan consensus in Missouri and Illinois. 

 “No one should have to choose between serving their country or sacrificing their health,” said Clay, who has been working on moving federal workers out of the complex for four years. “Since I became aware of the obvious unabated environmental hazards at this site and the terrible healthcare toll this has inflicted on so many federal employees, my goal was to first get these dedicated workers out of harm’s way, and then if possible, retain these good federal jobs for St. Louis.”

“Today’s announcement by the GSA achieves both of those goals,” he added.  

Some co-located agencies and their employees will also be relocating to downtown St. Louis while others move to different locations in the city and region, the Mayor’s Office said.

Otis Williams, executive director of the St. Louis Development Corporation, said the new downtown facility is expected to open in the next fiscal year.

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