Smell disrupts office; employees wear masks

By JOHN SEASLY
Herald Staff Writer

JASPER — A strong chemical smell has pervaded the Dubois County Division of Family Resources office for more than a week, disrupting services and causing health problems for employees.

The odor is the byproduct of a chemical stripping solution in use at the construction site nextdoor.
The county health department confirmed that the solution meets regulations, but the odor has been an ongoing problem.

The office, at 695 W. Second St., establishes eligibility for Medicaid, food stamps and cash assistance, as well as job training and placement for individuals in these programs.

The building in which the office is located is undergoing construction to move The Sun Station to the front of the building. The site is the future home of an outpatient medical clinic for Memorial Hospital.

According to several office employees, who were not authorized to speak on the record, the chemical smell has had a major effect on the workplace. During working hours, the office’s doors are propped open, and fans provided by Seufert Construction of Ferdinand circulate air out of the doorways.

Employees and some clients are wearing masks to protect their mouths and noses from the smell last week and again this morning. One employee got an eye infection that required two days off work. Another employee blacked out Thursday.

Indiana Division of Family Resources Director Lance Rhodes said this morning that he was made aware of the problem late last week. He said that after consulting with the state health department, the current solution is to keep the doors open and the office aerated. If employees believe the smell is a serious health hazard, they can take sick leave, he said.
“We don’t have any intention of shutting down the office,” Rhodes said.

Chris Tretter, director of development of Seufert Construction and a vice president of building owner Access Storage Now in Ferdinand, said that the construction crew was using a concrete stripper last Monday to remove glue and other materials from the floor. The product met Environmental Protection Agency guidelines, he said. After talking with management at the Division of Family Resources office about the smell that day, he switched to a different product Tuesday and said he hadn’t heard from the office since.

Shawn Werner, environmental health specialist at the county health department, received a call about the smell last Monday and went to the site. He said that normally he doesn’t deal with these kinds of calls in person, but the caller had not left a return number. Upon inspection, the product did meet standards, he said, but he noticed that some of its fumes were going into the ventilation system. Visiting again on Tuesday, he noticed that the smell was much improved.

As of this morning, employees at the office were still wearing masks and keeping the doors open and fans blowing. The smell is manageable in the morning, the employees said, but it gets progressively worse during the day.

Contact John Seasly at jseasly@dcherald.com.




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