KCUR News
2:24 pm
Tue June 1, 2010

Federal Health Officials Kick Off Investigation Of Bannister Complex

Kansas City, Mo. – Federal health officials arrive at the Banister Federal Complex today, the latest part of an ongoing investigation of possible hazards inside the General Services Administration's (GSA's) side of the complex. It's the first time health officials have been called in.

A team of doctors and scientists from the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) will be collecting information from current and former GSA workers. They'll also be conducting an environmental assessment of the facility over the next three days.

Several employees have complained of serious medical problems that they say are the result of exposure to hazardous materials used in the manufacturing side of the complex. In addition to GSA, Bannister houses a plant that produces non-nuclear parts for nuclear weapons. The EPA has identified several superfund sites there.

Maurice Copeland is a former worker at the plant and has been organizing both GSA and plant workers over the past decade. He says the visit from NIOSH this week is really significant because worker complaints have been continually ignored.

"The history is that we're having a hard time with them accepting the claims," says Copeland, "especially the cancers."

Copeland says this is the first time health officials are meeting with workers in this context. NIOSH and GSA are leading a town hall meeting for current workers this afternoon, and another one for former workers this evening.

Last month, GSA administrator Jason Klumb sent a request to NIOSH, asking that federal health officials conduct a study of GSA. Speaking on KCUR's Walt Bodine Show, Klumb said he believes the GSA portion of the facility is safe but also said there's a lot of questions that need to be answered.

"We need to find out what has gone on, what is going on, and we need to ensure that the people I work with on a day to day basis are working in a healthy environment," said Klumb.

The Environmental Protection Agency recently did a series of air-quality tests at GSA and found there to be no short-term or long term health risks. The agency is also reconsidering whether to place the complex on a high-priority clean-up list for superfund sites.

Funding for health care coverage on KCUR has been provided by the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City.

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