Interior's Sick Building

Built by the Franklin Delano Roosevelt administration, the Interior Department headquarters was completed December 17, 1936

The Department of the Interior Main Interior Building (Headquarters), located at 1849 C Street, N.W., Washington, D.C., is currently undergoing modernization while occupied. This cost-saving move to keep people working inside what is essentially an indoor construction zone is fraught with health and safety related problems.

Each day building occupants are exposed to strong hazardous chemical odors, welding fumes, soot, molds and fungi spewing from the modernization construction zone that are making Interior employees ill. Each day, employee and contractor health complaints are met with silence or non-responses.

Despite assurances by Secretary Gale Norton that employee safety and health is of the “highest priority,” the indoor air quality in the Interior Headquarters Building has continually declined. Many Interior employees and contract personnel are already sick from breathing these air contaminants over a long period of time and suffer silently for fear of reprisal.

What Needs to be Done

  1. Immediate Evacuation of the Building during the Modernization. The decision to keep the building occupied during reconstruction was a last-minute political decision made with scant regard for employee health.

  2. Monitoring and Treatment. There needs to be an independent, detailed employee health and mortality survey as well as a reproductive health study going back to 1979 when, according to NIOSH, people first started to complain about the building. The survey should determine whether there was higher mortality, cancer rate, incidence of pulmonary disorders, musculoskeletal problems, heart disease, skin disorders and other conditions linked to particulates and hazardous chemicals.

  3. Compensation. Sick leave taken since the modernization should be restored and out-of-pocket medical bills incurred should be reimbursed.