- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 10, 2005

The D.C. Department of Health is removing more than 100 HIV/AIDS Administration employees from a leased building on New York Avenue Northeast, after dozens of complaints about skin rashes, officials said yesterday.

Health department epidemiologists and National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health officials are investigating whether the problem is related to recent renovation work. The rashes were reported mostly by employees on the fifth floor of the office building, at 64 New York Ave. NE, officials said.

Dr. Gregg A. Pane, director of the health department, said preliminary findings suggest that microscopic particles of “wool fibrous” insulation used for fireproofing might have settled on workers’ desks and computers on the fifth floor.

Dr. Pane said at least 24 employees have developed rashes, which go away after they leave the building.

He also said there is no indication so far that employees on other floors of the six-story building, which housing different city agencies, have reported rashes. The building also houses offices for the departments of Employment Services, Human Services and Transportation.

Dr. Pane said city epidemiologists interviewing workers throughout the building to see whether other employees have similar problems. Many of the displaced employees are being relocated to the health department’s headquarters on North Capitol Street.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, a branch of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is providing an industrial hygienist and an epidemiologist to assist the District, said Larry Reed, deputy director for field studies at the federal agency.

Mary Ann Latko, director of scientific and technical initiatives at the Fairfax-based American Industrial Hygiene Association, yesterday said relocating the employees was “a good prudent decision.”

However, city officials should be sure that workers on other floors also are not coming down with symptoms, she said.

“It’s not a simple picture,” Miss Latko said. “They’re really going to have to look at what were the conditions at the time, look at the materials in the building and talk to people in the buildings … to see who has been exposed to what.”

The office building is owned by District-based Cayre Jamal’s Gateway LLC, whose managing member is local developer Douglas Jemal.

A company official yesterday said the District asked him not to comment on the matter.

The District last month approved a lease to expand its office space at the building, a $6.4 million deal over six years with a rental rate of $23.90 per square foot, according to documents.

HIV/AIDS Administration employees aren’t the only city employees with workplace health concerns.

The city’s Department of Motor Vehicles announced the closure this week of its 65 K St. NE branch, citing ventilation-system failures and “unhealthy interior conditions.”

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