- The Washington Times - Monday, August 29, 2005

D.C. property-management officials said yesterday that leased office space housing the city’s HIV/AIDS Administration and other health offices remains off-limits a month after workers first complained of mysterious skin rashes.

Last month, about two dozen D.C. workers on the fifth floor of a leased office building at 64 New York Ave. NE began complaining of skin rashes that appeared only when they went to work. The rashes disappeared when they left the office.

Epidemiologists with the D.C. Department of Health and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health are investigating the matter, but preliminary tests point to fireproofing material as the culprit, according to memos recently distributed to city employees at the building.

In a memo distributed last week, D.C. health department Director Gregg A. Pane blamed the allergic rashes on “fibrous insulation material.”

D.C. officials have said the material apparently came loose from ceiling tiles during recent renovation work on the building’s fifth floor.

“Initial findings indicate that the irritant is not communicable, and a person would have to be near the source of the irritant to be affected,” Dr. Pane wrote in the memo.

Fibers also were found on the building’s first floor after fireproofing materials were “transported to that area,” according to a memo sent by LaMont Flanagan, deputy director of the D.C. Department of Human Services, to employees who work in other parts of the building.

About 100 employees on the building’s fifth floor, including the HIV/AIDS Administration and city’s Emergency Health and Medical Services Administration, have been temporarily relocated to other offices. There is no set timeline on when employees will return to work at the building.

“We do plan on letting people back in once things have been cleaned up,” Aimee Occhetti, spokeswoman for the D.C. Office of Property Management, said yesterday.

Employees working on other floors of the building continue to report to work.

Last week, the health department sent surveys to find out if any other employees who work on other floors have had any health problems.

The District will pay for the cleanup; however, the cost is not clear.

“It’s the District’s responsibility and we’re paying for it,” Miss Occhetti said. “If that changes, then we’ll go into negotiations with the leasing company.”

Last month, the District 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.

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