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FAA Fails to Correct Urgent Safety Concerns at Detroit Airport: Controllers and Passengers at Risk - (5/18/2006)

CONTACT:  Vince Sugent, NATCA Facility Rep, Detroit Tower, 734-476-3989

As Agency Misses Critical Deadline, Controllers file ethics complaint as Toxic Black Mold Problems Endure

DETROIT – Air traffic controllers at Detroit International Airport today filed an ethics complaint and urged the FAA to immediately address the toxic black mold outbreak that is endangering controller and air passenger safety. Following more than a year of sicknesses, an evacuation, and pleas for help, controllers at the Detroit air traffic control tower filed ethic complaints against certified industrial hygienists and are in the process of filing lawsuits against remediation companies with Jennifer Grieco of Summers Schwartz Law Firm they say are not following industry standards for cleaning up the dangerous mess. Controllers at the airport have experienced air disease, lesions and lung scarring as a result of the failures, and the airport facility has had to be evacuated, leaving passenger safety at risk.

“We are running out of avenues here, and the safety of air traffic controllers and the flying public is at risk because of the FAA’s systematic failures to deal with this situation,” said Vince Sugent, Detroit facility representative for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association and one of those whose health has been affected by the mold. “We’ve won three claims with the Labor Department, we’ve had experts send recommendations on how to fix this problem, and we’ve asked the FAA to deal with this.  Instead of acting, they’ve brushed us off and left the work to a contractor that ignores industry standards.  All the while, we’ve got continuously ill controllers, which is a public safety issue.”

The FAA’s failure to properly address this issue caused the forced evacuation of one of America’s busiest air traffic control towers in January 2005 during a blizzard, thereby endangering the safety of air travelers. During that situation, 10 air traffic controllers were forced to seek immediate medical attention. But instead of learning from that dangerous mistake, the FAA forced controllers to return to work without further testing of their facility. Similar situations occurred again in May 2005 and January 2006 – and at least two controllers have been permanently injured and unable to work because of mold-related illnesses.  Responding to a recent formal request from airport workers for immediate action to fix the problem, the FAA denied basic problems existed and refused to take additional steps to address others.

"It’s simply mind-boggling that after numerous controllers have fallen ill, and the facility was immobilized, the FAA still isn’t taking the basic precautions that are standard in the workplace,” said Sugent. “This is a highly dangerous situation that simply cannot be allowed to continue.  I am living proof of how this has affected people.”

Controllers have experienced a range of serious symptoms as a result of the FAA’s failures. These include polyps removed from the nose, cases of asthma, restricted air disease, lesions, blisters, numerous cases of laryngitis, hives, rashes, cysts and lung scarring.  The controllers have won three damage claims with the Department of Labor’s Office of Workers Compensation Programs.

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