Bannister workers worry as tests identify traces of contamination, but EPA says 'no health concerns'

KANSAS CITY, Missouri - New test results identified trace amounts of the toxic metal beryllium, but officials say the levels were so low that they are comparable to what would be found in nature.

Workers remain concerned.

"I hold onto the rail when I come up and just kind of breathe hard," said former Bannister worker John Rice as he wheezed climbing the stairs to his bedroom. "Sometimes I have to stop."

He used to work for the IRS on the General Services Administration side of the Bannister Federal Complex and suffers from desquamative interstitial pneumonitis, a lung disease associated with contaminated air.

The Environmental Protection Agency said test results released Monday show "no health concerns."

Concerns have focused on the beryllium and uranium since an NBC Action News Investigation identified more than 400 sick or dead employees who worked at the complex.

About half the sick identified by our investigation came from the GSA side of the complex.


The other half worked at Honeywell, where they make non-nuclear parts for nuclear bombs.

GSA officials say they've conducted more than a hundred tests and only two showed positive results for small amounts of beryllium.

The trace amounts of beryllium and yitrium were similar to what officials say would be found in a normal outdoor field.


"Bulk dust samples were consistent with what beryllium and yitrium concentrations typically found in Missouri soil," said GSA Regional Administrator Jason Klumb.

 

Although an earlier test identified uranium on the GSA side of the complex, current tests did not.


Officials on the GSA side of the complex say out of 102 new test samples only two identified traces of beryllium contamination.

 

They were found right next to the wall the GSA shares with Honeywell - where they make nuclear bomb parts, but officials say the levels were so small; it's about what you expect to find in a normal field.


An EPA news release says "no health concerns."


That's tough to prove to former workers.


"I sleep with it 'cause I stop breathing at night," he said demonstrating a mask he wears that forces oxygen into his lungs.


His bed is covered with a ten year collection of documents he's using to find links to the Bannister Federal Complex.


So far, his claims have been denied.


Several times a day, he also uses a machine that creates a mix of aerosolized medication, water, and oxygen.


"It's about a ten minute breathing treatment," Rice said.


"What I'm saying is, they've got everybody looking for beryllium, and all the chemicals inside there are causing all the different problems. They've got from cancer and nobody is turning in a complaint because they have no idea where they got the cancer from."

Officials say more tests are planned.

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