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USDA Employees Removed From 'Toxic' Offices

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After years of complaints of mold growing in their offices, more than 50 U.S. Department of Agriculture employees in Oklahoma have been removed from their offices now deemed “too toxic to work in.” After years of complaints of mold growing in their offices, more than 50 U.S. Department of Agriculture employees in Oklahoma have been removed from their offices now deemed “too toxic to work in.”
PAULS VALLEY, Oklahoma -

By Grant Hermes, News 9

After years of complaints of mold growing in their offices, more than 50 U.S. Department of Agriculture employees in Oklahoma have been removed from their offices now deemed “too toxic to work in.”

The buildings in Pauls Valley, Eufaula and McAlester have all been evacuated. They housed employees from the Farm Service Agency and the Natural Resource Conservation Service.

 Employees were told to take what they could from their offices and leave. For several employees, that meant relocating miles away from clients. For others, it means moving into small trailers out of the building but still on site.

We got to looking at them and said 'hell, that's mold,’” one employee said. “We got to looking around and almost every [light] fixture in the building was like that.”

That employee, who asked not to be named, said they had problems with mold in offices growing on window sills and in the ventilation system.

Employees had complained to supervisors for years, according to one employee, and finally had an air quality report done on their offices.

It showed peak levels of mold spores, after the building’s owner spent days trying to dry out the building with fans and dehumidifiers.

Mold can often affect the lungs, eyes and ears. In large doses, the spores can be toxic causing major infections after prolonged exposure.

Employees think that same exposure may have already sent one person to the hospital and infected a handful of others.

“I've lost partial hearing in my right ear, which is one of the commons effects of mold exposure,” the employee said.

Employees have been told to be tested for infection which can often include a blood and urine test. But, those samples aren’t covered by employee insurance plans and can have costs ranging from $750 to $2000, depending on the breadth of the tests.

Contracted crews have already begun removing ceiling tiles, sheetrock and insulation from the building in Pauls Valley. Much of it stained with mold, leaving many employees unsure when they will be able to return to their normal offices.

[The] NRCS is currently working with the lessors and professional environmental experts on remediation of these offices.  The health and work place environment for our employees and our customers is of utmost concern to the NRCS,” NRCS conservationist Gary O’Neill said in a statement on Tuesday afternoon.

A meeting is scheduled for Thursday night in Sulphur with O’Neill and other officials from the FSA/NRCS to discuss the future of the mold clean-up and how long it could take to get employees back into their offices.

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