Protect state workers from sick buildings

TOP: Detail of the danger sign posted on an entrance to Camp Keyes, Augusta, shown
below, as seen Jan. 9, 2020.

Support LD 1969, An Act to Protect State Workers from Exposure to Carcinogens

In January 2019, state workers started to speak up about problems with asbestos at the Maine State Cultural Building that’s home to the Maine State Museum, Maine State Archives and Maine State Library.

Over the last year, other workers have reported issues with asbestos, lead, black mold and other health and safety concerns at additional state buildings. As such, we interviewed workers to collect information, launched a campaign to address the issue and met last winter and fall with the Maine Department of Labor to better understand current enforcement. We also filed a grievance and massive information requests, worked with the UMass Amherst Labor Center to do research, and analyzed the information received from the State over the summer.

A fellowship intern from the University of Maine is helping with this work, and we’re working with State Representative Thom Harnett of Gardiner on legislative solutions as well. At our request, Representative Harnett is sponsoring LD 1969, An Act to Protect State Workers from Exposure to Carcinogens. We testified in support of LD 1969 on Jan. 22 at a hearing before the Committee on State and Local Government.

LD 1969 would identify and catalog problem buildings and related testing. It would create new standards relating to contaminant levels and improve testing requirements. It would improve the ability of workers to raise and resolve safety concerns.

What we discovered through all of our work on sick buildings won’t surprise state workers: The State of Maine is filled with older buildings that have for many years been in decline. The State lacks a comprehensive system for tracking on the potential health risks, repairs and risk zones in buildings.

As a result, there is a pattern of short-term specific repairs with problems that are reported, but no real plan for the proactive work to prevent exposures. There also hasn’t been real education for workers about potential risks and how to spot risks and alert management. That’s why we’re fighting for:
— A system for tracking, monitoring and transparent information about buildings and potential risk areas.
— Adoption of recommended standards concerning black mold.
— A safety committee, training and transparent communication.

We’ve started to see a response from the Maine Bureau of General Services, which administers the design and construction of state facilities, and Maine Bureau of Human Resources to try to address concerns and find solutions. This is an opportunity to continue to raise this issue and demand systemic problems be addressed through the legislative process. We look forward to working with the State to find solutions.

As shown in this file photo taken March 14, 2019, in the Maine Cultural Building in Augusta, part of the Maine Labor Mural produced by Tremont artist Judy Taylor had been removed “due to roof leaks,” according to the sign in front of the missing panel. Water stains were visible on ceiling tiles. Parts of the building were closed off.

Updated: January 30, 2020 — 2:57 PM