Editor's note - Remarks quoted from
documents are quoted as written by the documents' authors.
Missouri Senator Christopher Bond sent a
letter today to U.S. Inspector General Brian Miller, asking for
information about the "full extent of the problem and what steps
GSA is taking to protect employees if deemed at risk".
Bond's letter says, "the Missouri Department of Health and
the Environmental Protection Administration will, in the coming
days, release new tests results on the levels of Trichloroethylene
or TCE, a dangerous carcinogen, at the
Bannister Complex. While the pending results of these
tests will be evaluated, news reports point to a possibly more
wide-spread health risks at the Bannister complex, including
possible exposure to beryllium."
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Documents obtained
by NBC Action News show General Services
Administration officials knew about a
cancer scare inside the Bannister Federal
at the time the agency was denying knowledge of worker
The documents, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act,
substantiate claims from sick workers that they notified government
officials of their fears by providing a list of about 100 sick and
dead former colleagues.
“Nothing specific on any particular health
issues,” said Michael Brincks, acting regional administrator
of the General Service Administration’s Heartland Region when
we asked him about complaints of a cancer scare. "Not really
anything specific. I've been working here close to 19 years.”
The letter that Brincks denied knowing about was written by
former employees of the Defense Finance and Accounting Service
offices at the Bannister Federal Complex.
We filed Freedom of Information Act requests demanding
records of employee health concerns on the GSA side of the
Bannister Federal Complex.
The majority of the complaints we received came from
former employees of DFAS, which leased space at the complex from
The GSA also leases space to National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration, Federal Emergency Management Agency, U.S. Dept. of
Agriculture, Veteran’s Administration, Internal Revenue
Service and other government agencies.
The other side of the Bannister Federal Complex is controlled
by a Department of Energy plant which manufactures non-nuclear
parts for nuclear weapons.
A U.S. Dept. of Labor official says a program that monitors
worker illnesses has recorded more than 1,400 claims at the weapons
plant from workers who suspect their illnesses are linked to toxins
at the facility. The reports date back to the 1960s, and
No program monitors illnesses or deaths on the GSA side of
the building, which is separated from the weapons plant by a
concrete wall and sealed doors.
A Department of Labor Web site lists 785 known toxins
identified at the weapons facility at various times since it first
opened as a war aircraft engine plant in 1942. Among the
toxins on the list are uranium, boron, beryllium, PCBs and
Our Freedom of Information Act request uncovered
thousands of pages of reports on toxin tests and employee health
concerns on the GSA side of the complex, including evidence GSA
officials knew about the DFAS cancer scare.
One e-mail we uncovered regarding
GSA’s knowledge of the DFAS cancer scare was sent in
August. It was sent by Mary Ruwwe, regional commissioner of
the GSA Heartland Region, to high-ranking GSA officials in
“Heads up,” Ruwwe wrote in the e-mail about the
DFAS letter, explaining it “lists 90 individuals who
they believe have or had cancer related illnesses cause by
toxins on the complex.”
Ruuwe, who reports to Brincks, sent the e-mail to Brincks'
Washington superiors three months before our investigation
uncovered the DFAS concerns.
GSA officials have declined repeated interview requests,
citing concerns that the information would be taken out of
GSA spokesman Charles Cook issued a written
statement saying Brincks was unaware of the e-mail that Ruuwe
sent to Brincks’ superiors.
“It was never accepted as an official notification, and
thus was not routed through (Brincks’) office for
review,” Cook wrote.
The sick DFAS workers had addressed the letter to Missouri
Senators Kit Bond and Claire McCaskill.
“As of today, no notification of the concern has been
addressed to GSA or any GSA representative in an official
capacity,” Cook wrote when explaining why officials said
they were unaware of the claims of sick and dead workers.
Cook wrote that since the letter was in draft form and not
addressed to GSA officials, GSA did not consider it had official
knowledge of the cancer scare.
“It was not directed toward any GSA official but to
elected officials and another federal agency,” Cook wrote.
“Draft notices to other agencies are not formal complaints to
Ruwwe’s e-mail was addressed to Paul Prouty, acting
administrator at GSA headquarters and Anthony Costa, acting
commissioner of GSA Public Buildings.
The e-mail acknowledges contamination inside GSA-owned space
from operations when the Department of Energy controlled the
area, but says “this space is not currently occupied and will
be thoroughly decontaminated before considering it for
The e-mail documents GSA's receipt in August of the DFAS
draft letter where employees made "cancer related illness" claims.
Ruwwe sent copies to Washington officials, but no one at GSA
acknowledged that during our investigation.
We asked Brincks during a November interview about whether
GSA knew of the complaints, “More than a hundred people may
have become sick or died. You had no idea?”
“No, GSA had no information related to that,”
Brincks responded. That was three months after
Another internal document that confirms
GSA’s receipt of the DFAS letter doesn’t make the
distinction of “formal” knowledge about the cancer
The document was written shortly before my interview with
Brincks where he denied knowledge of the letter.
The e-mail, written by Cook, provides an executive summary of
the “Bannister Press Situation.”
“In August, a group of current and former employees of
the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DOD) provided GSA with
a draft congressional letter indicating concern,” Cook wrote
in the summary for GSA executives.
“Their letter included a list of more than 90
individuals who ‘we believe to have or had
cancer/related illness’,” Cook explained.
In the document, Cook reassures executives that the facility
provides “healthy work environments.”
Environmental quality tests in the workspaces confirm that no
health risks exist to building workers,” Cook wrote.
“GSA operates under the obligations of full disclosure and
takes all inquires concerning workplace health issues
The Freedom of Information Act request also obtained a 2001
inquiry from Senator Kit Bond, about PCB contamination at the
complex, after IRS workers claimed 17 employees from one office
area contracted cancer.
We also uncovered 2003 internal e-mails and hand written
notes that indicate cancer concerns in still a different part of
the complex at the GSA's National Payroll Center.
“If folks had come forward to GSA, of course we would
have looked at that,” Brincks said in November.
When specifically asked during that November interview
about the letter claiming dozens of illnesses in deaths in the DFAS
office space, Brincks responded GSA wasn’t aware of the
concern until they received our copy of the sick
“I've seen that list, just two days ago was the first
time I've ever seen that list,” Brincks claimed during the
Since our investigation, the Environmental Protection
Agency, the Missouri Dept. of Natural Resources and the
Missouri Dept. of Health and Senior Services have joined a probe
into potential health risks in the GSA-controlled space at the
In an EPA statement, officials said the review was in
response to “citizens' concerns and media
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