- Associated Press - Monday, February 17, 2014

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - Blood tests done on 97 state employees who had worked in the former National Guard Armory in Helena indicated they were not at risk of overexposure to lead, according to a doctor hired by the state.

The Department of Environmental Quality closed the building on Oct. 28 after tests indicated lead levels up to 40 times higher than federal standards in ceilings throughout the building. Follow-up air tests revealed acceptable lead levels.

The state Department of Administration has blood-test results from 97 people and only two indicated slightly elevated lead levels. Dr. Michael Kosnett of the University of Colorado School of Medicine concluded that current and former employees were not at risk of overexposure to lead. More may have sought testing, but only those who signed a medical release are included in the analysis, the Independent Record (http://bit.ly/1m1mYkv) reports.

Contractors are finishing up tests for other contaminants, Department of Administration Director Sheila Hogan said. After that, officials will develop a remediation plan.

After closing the building, the DOA said it was notifying state employees who had worked at the armory about the contamination and that the state would pay for blood tests. Employees from the departments of Revenue, Justice, Military Affairs and Environmental Quality have worked in the building since the state took it over in 2002.

Efforts to notify all the employees who had worked in the building were hampered, in part, because the state’s data-management system doesn’t contain information that would quickly identify employees who worked in the armory.

Department of Administration spokeswoman Sheryl Olson says in many cases, the “work location” field in its employee files was left blank.

For at least the last decade, employees had complained about unusual health symptoms at work such as headaches, severe fatigue and sinus infections, which lead to the contaminant testing that revealed the elevated lead levels in the building.

Officials haven’t found anything alarming in the follow-up tests. But if they do, Olson said the department would resume efforts to contact past employees.

Exposure to high levels of lead can result in lead poisoning, which can eventually lead to brain and kidney damage and anemia, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The armory was constructed in 1942 and housed a firing range for the Montana National Guard. The range was closed in 1994 and underwent a lead-removal process, Hogan has said. But the rest of the building was not tested.

___

Information from: Independent Record, http://www.helenair.com