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Wednesday, Feb. 4, 2009 12:40 pm

Safety hazards at the Stratton

Problems persist until state funds are found

Nearly two years after the state was told to clean up asbestos and mold in the William G. Stratton building, the hazards remain.

In March 2007 an Illinois Department of Labor (IDOL) inspection cited Secretary of State Jesse White’s office, which is responsible for managing state buildings at the Capitol Complex, after finding several violations of state occupational safety and health requirements. IDOL safety officials classified the violations as “serious,” meaning able to cause death or physical harm, under state occupational safety laws.

Henry Haupt, deputy press secretary for White, says the agency has addressed all the issues to the best of its ability but that many of the concerns are outside of the Secretary of State’s control.

The violations noted in the IDOL’s letter include elevated levels of mold, moisture damage and high levels of microbial growth and the presence of asbestos-containing materials.

State labor officials gave the Secretary of State’s office 45 days to abate the problems, to which White’s office objected. With respect to the asbestos issue, the materials are located in areas that are not accessed by employees or the general public, responded White’s senior legal advisor, Nathan Maddox, in April 2007.

Furthermore, he said, “Abatement of asbestos in this building will require capital improvements or replacement of the building. These actions are not within the scope of the Secretary of State’s responsibility or authority over the Stratton Building.”

Capital improvements would have to be made by the Office of the Architect and undertaken by the Capital Development Board.

Replacing the building would cost an estimated $150 million; making the necessary repairs would cost roughly half that amount.

Given the state’s shaky fiscal standing, it remains unclear whether lawmakers would be willing to include a new workspace for state workers in a capital spending plan, an issue expected to be to taken up in the current legislative session.

In the meantime, Haupt says: “Our number one goal is maintaining a safe working environment for employees. All of our air sample testing shows the environment to be safe to work in.”

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