Glen Arm site with ill workers found safe

Lack of worker notification criticized by MOSH

June 03, 1999|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

State inspectors reviewing conditions at a Baltimore County maintenance facility where a dozen workers have become ill since fall gave it a clean bill of health yesterday but criticized county officials for not being more open with workers about conditions at the plant.

Maryland Occupational Safety and Health inspectors told county officials, union representatives and a half-dozen county workers in a meeting at the Glen Arm Maintenance Facility that it is a safe place to work.

"What I told them was that I found it's a safe building," said Lewis Ramage, a MOSH inspector.

County employees had asked MOSH to check for environmental problems after 12 workers developed rashes and other symptoms while working at the facility, which is used to repair firetrucks, traffic signals, snowplows and other heavy equipment.

Ramage said yesterday that he criticized county officials for not informing workers earlier about the results of three county-funded environmental reviews completed earlier this year.

"Any time people in a workplace are concerned about exposure to anything toxic, the employees should be told," Ramage said.

Traces of toxic substances such as beryllium, chromium and nickel have been found at the site, which was used by Northrop Grumman from 1967 to 1994 as a machine shop to assemble aircraft parts. County officials say the environmental assessments completed before MOSH's review found no evidence linking the illnesses with the building.

Ramage said that he took additional air samples at the 180,000-square-foot facility, reviewed samples of dust previously collected and accompanied a physician who interviewed the 12 workers who complained of health problems.

He said that there is nothing to indicate that the rashes could be linked to the facility, which the county purchased for $1.9 million in 1996.

County officials acknowledged yesterday that they should have been more forthcoming with the 200 employees at the facility.

They said that MOSH's reports confirm conclusions by the county's experts, who say there is no evidence linking the illnesses to conditions in the building.

"What we don't have here is any kind of smoking gun, and now that's been verified here by three different environmental reviews," said William E. Clarke, a supervisor in the Baltimore County Department of Environmental Protection and Resource Management.

Environmental assessments were completed by Jenkins Environmental Inc. of Parkville, which took air and dust samples in February and March, and Dr. Shirin De Silva, an Army physician who surveyed the site and interviewed workers.

James F. Clark, president of the Baltimore County Federation of Public Employees, said the MOSH review was necessary because many county workers were skeptical of the results of county-funded studies.

"Much of what MOSH said [today] made sense, but I'm really concerned about the workers who are still having problems," he said.

Workers say rashes still are a common problem.

"Personally, I think they've glossed the whole thing over," said a worker who requested anonymity, referring to MOSH's findings.

Clark said that if workers continue to be dissatisfied with MOSH's results, the county should consider hiring another expert to conduct another review.

"We may need to consider bringing in an expert to say MOSH is on the money or that MOSH is incorrect," he said.

Clarke, the county supervisor, said his office will begin unannounced inspections of the facility, but that no additional studies are planned.

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