Business & Economy

Complaint alleges health hazards at Pownal town offices

The Pownal town office building. A complaint to the state says there’s mold and other issues in the workplace. Photo by Jim Therrien/VTDigger
BENNINGTON — A complaint filed recently with the state alleges workplace health and safety hazards at the Pownal town offices.

Daniel Whipple, manager of the Vermont Occupational Safety and Health Administration, told the Selectboard the complainant, who was not named, alleges “mold throughout building and mildew under the building,” and building exit signs that are not up to code.

In a letter to board Chair Ronald Bisson, Whipple said VOSHA received the complaint March 8, one day after Pownal voters rejected a ballot question seeking approval to continue planning for a new town office building, costing up to $911,100.

“We have not determined whether the hazards, as alleged, exist at your workplace, and we do not intend to conduct an inspection at this time,” Whipple told the town.

However, he said VOSHA is requesting that the town “immediately investigate the alleged conditions and make any necessary corrections or modifications.”

Whipple asked the board to advise his office by Friday of the results of its investigation.

Bisson said he intended to bring up the VOSHA letter during the board’s regular meeting Thursday and expects there will be deliberation about how to respond. He said the town recently hired contractors to perform mold and moisture control, carpet cleaning and other work at the town offices.

He cited installation of dehumidifiers and air filters, along with work under a section of the structure that doesn’t have a concrete foundation — including part of the board’s meeting space at the rear of the building. That area is considered the likely source of moisture issues.

“It looks like somebody who must be a supporter of the new town hall (project) went to the state,” the chairman said.

According to the VOSHA letter, the board should include in its response any corrective action the town has taken to address mold or other problems.

Tom Shuey, the town transfer station supervisor, who is retired from a 40-year career as a contractor, helped the board in hiring contractors for the town office work. He said Wednesday that “we did address the mold problems.”

Shuey said he worked with the board to bring in an engineering firm to assess air quality and moisture issues and then to hire other contractors to perform the work according to those specifications. The project included laying down a vapor barrier under the section lacking a concrete foundation.

“We did address everything,” he said, but added, “If they are going to stay there, they are going to want to put in a concrete foundation.”

That could cost in the neighborhood of $70,000, he said.

The VOSHA letter says the notice does not serve as a citation or formal notification of a proposed penalty, which could occur only after a VOSHA inspection or investigation.

“It is our goal to assure that hazards are promptly identified and eliminated,” Whipple wrote. “Please take immediate corrective action where needed.”

VOSHA also is requesting that the town post a copy of the letter where it is accessible to all town employees and any town worker union organizations or safety committees.

The town has sought for nearly 25 years to replace the current office and meeting space, most of which dates to 1928.

The town funded about $50,000 worth of work on the building recently, but Bisson said about $40,000 of that was to install a new sidewalk, steps and rails to Americans With Disabilities Act standards.

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Jim Therrien

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