Remediation work begins at Dept. of Labor building

Work began over the weekend to identify the source of employee health problems in one section of the Alaska Department of Labor building in Juneau.

State Chief Procurement Officer Vern Jones says the facility’s private owner – Juneau 1, LLC – has hired Anchorage-based Alborn Construction to look for any mold hiding behind the walls in Room 210 – the site of several employee concerns.

“There actually hasn’t been anything specifically found,” says Jones. “But there have been ongoing complaints and issues reported by employees there. So it’s been agreed to between the state and the lessor to open up the walls, take a look and see what’s there, and if there’s anything there that shouldn’t be to repair and remediate as necessary.”

Jones says Juneau-based environmental engineering firm Carson Dorn will test any organic growth found during the work.

He says the landlord has not yet agreed to upgrade the building’s heating, ventilation, and air conditioning, or H-VAC system – also believed to be causing employee symptoms.

“There have been discussions with the building owner about repairs to the H-VAC units,” Jones says. “They’re older and the lessor tells us they need to be replaced.”

Air quality testing performed by state-hired consultants late last year and in January showed trace amounts of organic material – such as mold spores – in the building, but nothing that would explain the health problems experienced by many workers. Carbon dioxide tests also came back at levels deemed safe by experts. Jones says the state is awaiting further tests on particulate matter from the H-VAC units.

“Folks there reported some black substance coming out of the H-VAC system that’s more than likely some wear or component in the H-VAC system that’s coming out the venting,” says Jones.

The Labor building has been blamed for workers’ allergy and asthma-like symptoms for at least five years. Previous remediation efforts – which included new siding, new windows and replacement of water damaged carpet – have not resolved the problems. During the 2007 re-siding project, mold was observed on several of the plywood panels that line the building’s exterior walls.

Labor Department Spokeswoman Beth Leschper says about ten employees from the Division of Employment Security will be temporarily moved to the Wild Meadow Job Service building in the Mendenhall Valley during this latest round of work.

“We had some space available in that building. And what we’re trying to do is keep our teams together as much as possible, so this remediation work does not impact our ability to provide services to our clients,” Leschper says.

The work is expected to take six to eight weeks. During construction, Room 210 will be sealed off from the rest of the building to keep any mold spores or other particulates from spreading.

Jones says the state and the building’s owner continue to work with a mediator on terms of a new lease for the facility. He declined to discuss details of those negotiations, citing a confidentiality agreement.