Claims that SPAWAR employees have workplace-related illnesses, delays in testing

Internal emails about "ill" employees at SPAWAR
Posted at 6:34 PM, Feb 08, 2018
and last updated 2018-02-12 14:14:23-05

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - A contracted employee working at the massive Old Town government facility is claiming that she and several others have been reporting ongoing workplace-related sickness since last year, but the facility has been slow to get the appropriate testing done.


“I'm concerned not only for my health but for the health of my coworkers,” she says.


Her concern is heightened, given an incident that happened in 2014 in a nearby building at Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command, or SPAWAR. The NAVY confirms about 100 people in that other building were temporarily moved because of possible exposure to the toxic chemical, trichloroethylene, or TCE. The chemical was left over in the ground after it was used to make aircraft at SPAWAR during World War II. The area has since been going through cleanup.


10News got an exclusive interview with the contracted employee at SPAWAR who says she and more than a dozen of her colleagues have been actively complaining of symptoms like headaches, nausea, dizziness and fatigue, since last fall. “Within a half hour of arriving to work, I start to develop a migraine. Sometimes it's debilitating,” she tells 10News. We’re not disclosing her name since she fears losing her job for breaking her silence.


It was last year she tells us that information technology firm Booz Allen Hamilton hired her to do work at SPAWAR. She and her colleagues do not work with chemicals. Last fall, she says she and the others started complaining of the same symptoms, so management instructed them to fill out and submit health logs. In a log provided to 10News, one person writes, "There are times that I need to leave throughout the day to get fresh air in order to reduce the pounding headache and dizziness. These symptoms often continue 3-4 hours after leaving the office."


Our source provided us with numerous internal emails dating back to October that she says were sent by supervisors. The emails address the problem and report that supervisors are working to coordinate testing. However, more than 100 days after the October email, a February email reports the need to conduct further testing for air flow, air quality and volatile organic compounds. Part of the email reads, "Bottom line…SPAWAR is taking this quite seriously…” and, “Unfortunately, with these [kinds] of things, it’s a slow process.”


“Now we're already looking at six months of all of us being subjected to migraines, nausea, fatigue,” our source says.


10News contacted Booz Allen Hamilton. A representative sent us a statement that reads, “We are concerned and actively working to protect our employees. While we don't own the workspaces, we are having regular and ongoing discussions with those who oversee the environment.”


SPAWAR referred 10News to the Navy Region Southwest, which owns the workspaces. The two full statements can be found at the bottom of this story. The first one reads in part, there are " known air quality issues..." where our source works. However, it states it’s investigating reports of symptoms in the nearby SPAWAR building that had TCE issues in 2014, but, “…it’s found no significant hazards to the workforce."


 The California Department of Toxic Substances Control reports that the Navy is still working on the cleanup of TCE that caused the temporary relocation of employees in 2014 in the SPAWAR building (Building 3) near our source’s building (Building 1). In part of an email in regards to Building 3, a DTSC representative writes, “The extensive remediation process for soil and groundwater is still on going at the Navy property. It will take a least several more years to complete the full cleanup." 


Navy Region Southwest Response on 2-7-18:


 (Building 1 refers to 10 News’ source’s reported building)


"Nothing is more important than the health and well-being of our dedicated workforce. There are no known air quality issues in Building 1 at this time. The Navy provides maintenance and repairs in these World War II-era buildings when issues are identified. In September 2014, the Navy relocated approximately 100 employees from the Navy's Old Town Complex Building 3 when the USEPA Region 9 recommended new indoor air thresholds for trichloroethene, commonly referred to as TCE. The decision was made to relocate employees in the affected area as a precautionary measure until the Navy was able to collect more comprehensive data. The Old Town Complex was a large aircraft manufacturing plant during World War II, and chlorinated solvents had been used then at the north end of Building 3, leaving TCE in the ground. The source of the TCE concentrations in indoor air was determined to be the chlorinated solvent found in soil and groundwater north of Building 3.

In response to the TCE concentrations in indoor air, the Navy instituted the following control measures:

        1) Modified the heating, ventilation, and air condition (HVAC) system to improve air quality and induce positive pressure in the affected areas;

        2) Sealed openings and cracks in the floor in and around the affected areas; and

        3) Installed and operated a remediation system to remove and treat air from the crawl space beneath Building 3.

No indoor air concentrations have been detected above US EPA guideline action levels in the nine subsequent indoor air sampling events performed between October 2015 and October 2017. The Navy is investigating additional reports of individuals reporting various symptoms working in a newly renovated portion of Building 3.  That investigation is ongoing, but has found no significant hazards to the work force after extensive environmental monitoring conducted in late 2017. The Navy continues to explore possible improvements to air quality in the workplace at Building 3.


Navy Region Southwest Response on 2-8-18:


“[We] want to restate that the health and well-being of our workforce is top priority. We take air quality issues seriously and perform thorough investigations. There are no known air quality issues in the buildings you've asked about.
We have had some health-related complaints and the Navy has been investigating the accounts of individuals reporting various symptoms. That investigation is ongoing, but has found no significant hazards to the work force after extensive environmental monitoring conducted in late 2017. Although potential causes have not been identified, the Navy continues to look for ways to improve the working environment.
Due to the age of these buildings, we've occasionally had problems with leaky roofs or water pipes. When these issues are discovered they are immediately repaired and subsequent testing is completed to [insure] the spaces are safe. On two recent occasions, leaks and condensation led to wet carpets and floors. In both instances, repairs were made, the areas cleaned up, subsequent tests for mold were negative, and normal work resumed in the area.
Also, since 2015 the Navy has been mitigating TCE vapor intrusions in the areas in the north area of the complex.  Our employees' safety is, again, our priority, so samples have been collected as recently as November and December 2017 and have all been under regulatory levels.