- Associated Press - Friday, September 19, 2014

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Federal and state environmental agencies are investigating the discovery of PCB contamination inside a Wal-Mart warehouse that the company shut down last month.

Wal-Mart has hired an environmental consulting firm to check out the building on the far east side of Indianapolis that it leases and is operated by the Exel staffing agency, retailer spokesman Randy Hargrove said.

Out of an abundance of caution, Wal-Mart closed the 600-worker warehouse Aug. 20 after the contamination was discovered, Hargrove said, and informed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.

PCB, which was used in electrical transformers and hydraulic systems before it was banned in 1979, is linked to cancer and birth defects.

“We are cooperating with the investigation, and early indications suggest that the contaminant is in the building materials,” Hargrove said.

An Indianapolis law firm this week filed a lawsuit in a Marion County court on behalf of a warehouse worker against Wal-Mart, accusing it of negligence. The employees have not been told the extent of the contamination, the length of exposure or results of inspections at the warehouse, according to the lawsuit.

“The failure to keep them apprised of the investigation is certainly causing a lot of anxiety,” attorney Henry Price told The Indianapolis Business Journal. “They still do not know the source of, or the extent of, the exposure.”

Hargrove declined to comment on the lawsuit’s allegations.

The PCBs were found in floor sweepings of an area of the warehouse where forklifts are re-charged, said Bruce Palin, an assistant commissioner of the state environmental agency. Palin said early testing suggests caulking used in the expansion joints of the 50-year-old warehouse’s concrete floor and insulated siding could be sources of the PCB.

“Once they can isolate the source of the material, they’ll have a better idea just how much exposure may have occurred,” he told WTHR-TV.

Exel employees have been offered blood tests and are receiving full pay and benefits during the shutdown. Exel spokeswoman Lynn Anderson said it and Wal-Mart hoped to resume warehouse operations at another location sometime in October.

Some workers, meanwhile, are concerned about the possible health hazards from the PCB exposure.

“We are nervous,” said Joseph Vangah, an Exel forklift operator who had his blood drawn this week. “We don’t know much about PCBs and what they might do.”

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