Twenty lawyers who work for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, contending that their offices at 2401 E. St. NW are "unfit for human occupation," yesterday asked U.S. District Court to order the federal government to get rid of the noxious fumes, mold and fungi they say they must live with on the job.
The attorneys, who filed a lawsuit yesterday against the General Services Administration, said in court papers that GSA had failed to take adequate steps to remedy the alleged health hazards at the EEOC offices where complaints about bad air and poor ventilation have been registered for several years. The offices where the lawyers work is located just above a parking lot, and the building itself, Columbia Plaza, sits along the heavily traveled E Street expressway.
"GSA has been promising us (that they) will fix the building," said attorney Michael P. Persico. But, he added, "when it comes down to the wire they never do anything."
A spokesman for GSA said the agency could not comment on the lawsuit, which it had not seen. But an official there disputed the employes contention that GSA had failed to take action on the complaints.
Rodgers Stewart, an assistant to the GSA's regional administrator, said yesterday that extensive tests late last year showed that the air contaminant level in the EEOC offices did not exceed standards for safe air set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health. The studies were done by private consultants in conjunction with staff from Johns Hopkins University, Stewart said.
An EEOC spokesman also said that GSA met with a contingent of ECCOC employes recently and agreed to monitor air quality in the offices for a month. The results of those tests are not yet available, the spokesman said.
In papers filed with the federal court yesterday, one EEOC supervisor said that over the last four or five years there have been many "emergency" incidents in which employes have been evacuated from their offices because of heavy fumes.
The lawsuit also included a letter from one lawyer, written in March, in which she complained that she could spend only one hour a day in her office before she began to suffer headaches and coughing and begin to feel "groggy." On one occasion, when she left her office to seek better air in the office library, the attorney, Judy Trent Ellis, said she found a sign on the door which said the library staff had left for other quarters "due to the fumes."
Acting EEOC chairman J. Clay Smith, Jr. also was named a defendant in the suit.