By Andrea Wood
A report released Monday said that no contaminants have yet been found at the Bannister Federal Complex, however, the Public Buildings Service (PBS) in charge of the site neglected its environmental testing and misled both the public and employees at the site throughout the past decade.
“The Heartland Region Public Buildings Service (PBS) is currently taking substantial steps to protect the occupants of the Complex and testing has revealed no significant health hazards in GSA-controlled space,” said John Walsh, the Regional Inspector General who released the report. “However, we determined that prior to 2010, PBS did not have a strong environmental management program for the Complex.”
The report was completed at the request of Senator Kit Bond and supported by Senator Claire McCaskill and Congressman Emmanuel Cleaver following reports that current and former employees at the Complex may have developed serious illnesses and died as a result of exposure to toxic substances.
“We were asked to determine whether GSA’s Public Buildings Service (PBS) took appropriate steps to protect the health and safety of the occupants in PBS space at the Complex,” Walsh said.
The report’s conclusion:
PBS did not always take appropriate steps to protect the health and safety of the occupants at the Complex when presented with evidence of potential hazards…
PBS often provided erroneous and/or incomplete information to both the public and our office concerning environmental issues at the Complex. Some of this information was incorrect to the point that it misled requestors as to the environmental work performed at the Complex…
PBS personnel also did not have a clear understanding of environmental responsibilities pertaining to the GSA-controlled portion of the Complex and did not adequately document or maintain files related to health and safety conditions at the Complex. Finally, PBS may not have complied with the annual reporting requirements of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA)…
Prior to 2010, PBS addressed specific issues when raised by tenants but did not have a strong environmental management program for the Complex. Given the known contamination at the Complex and given the requirement to protect the health and safety of building occupants, we believe PBS should have been more vigilant in overseeing environmental issues at the Complex. Further, we are troubled by the lack of knowledge on the part of PBS officials about safety and environmental conditions at the Complex…
As a result, GSA cannot provide assurance that the Complex has historically been a safe and healthy workplace. Further, PBS’s actions, along with the dissemination of incorrect information, have damaged GSA’s credibility with both building occupants and the general public.
“This report should serve as an immediate wakeup call for the GSA,” said Bond. “The bureaucrats who mishandled information and failed to perform adequate safety tests as documented in the IG’s report should be held accountable. I will continue working to ensure the GSA takes the immediate and long-term steps necessary to provide answers for former workers and ensure the safety of those currently working at the complex.”
Examples were provided in the report of the PBS’ lax oversight.
A letter by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) in January 2005, stated that a report on whether there was trichloroethylene (TCE) contamination at the complex was “biased towards a conclusion of no further action, where instead, it should focus on what data gaps exist and what further work needs to be done, especially since this is an interim report.”
The letter also said that, in regard to the Bannister Complex’s child care facility, “the document should propose a complete vapor intrusion study using acceptable methods as outlined in the EPA guidance.”
PBS never provided MDNR a response and the vapor intrusion system at the child care facility was not installed until February 2010 (5 years after the letter). On October 7, 2005, MDNR offered to provide assistance to PBS regarding environment issues at the Complex. Instead, PBS terminated MDNR’s environmental oversight contract on October 24, 2005.
Another example of PBS’s lax oversight is reflected in its handling of wells installed to monitor groundwater contamination.
In the past, chemicals that are harmful to humans and the environment were used at the Complex, including trichloroethylene and polychlorinated biphenyls. Portions of the complex have been used for waste disposal and remediation. Over 200 groundwater wells located throughout the Complex monitor the presence of these contaminants. Prior to 2002, PBS installed two monitoring wells at the Northwest portion of the Complex. It installed an additional monitoring well in the same area during 2002 and six more in 2006. Other than one test in 2004, these wells were not monitored until the Department of Energy (that operates a three million square foot plant at the Complex) began testing the wells in 2008.
In all, the report concludes that PBS has not been diligent in making sure that the site was a healthy place to work for the past decade.
“The people who have worked at Bannister have a right to be angry,” McCaskill said Monday. “This IG report shows serious misjudgment on the part of the federal government, and I’ve spoken with the Public Buildings Commissioner at GSA about it. The safety of employees should be GSA’s first priority and those responsible for these failures need to be held accountable.”
Officials and the approximately 2,550 employees in the DOE-controlled portion of the Complex are now awaiting an upcoming independent report from the EPA on contamination at the Bannister Federal Complex. So far, no contaminants have been found, but the report Monday pointed out that testing is not complete.
“Our review determined that current testing performed at the Complex has not identified any significant health hazards present in GSA-controlled space. Further, historical ad hoc testing and our review of workers’ compensation claims filed by occupants of the complex do not indicate any sustained exposure to toxic substances by GSA occupants. However, it is important to note that not all of the test results have been finalized and the health hazard evaluation being conducted by NIOSH has not been completed.”
The Bannister Federal Complex (Complex) consists of 310 acres located on Bannister Road in the southern part of Kansas City, Missouri.
The Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) currently contracts with Honeywell to produce non-nuclear mechanical, electronic, and engineered material components for U.S. national defense systems at the site. DOE controls over 30 buildings totaling over three million square feet of space. Currently there are approximately 2,550 employees in the DOE-controlled portion of the Complex.