Sandia LabNews

Bldg. 807 investigation: Bioassay results come back negative, independent building assessment begins


Investigators still have no answers to the central question, but they do have new ways of asking

Sandia has reported the results of urinalyses to the 72 people who voluntarily participated in bioassays conducted in January as part of the ongoing Bldg. 807 health concerns investigation.Of the 72 urine samples tested for the presence of five metals by a private toxicology lab in Salt Lake City, none contained unusual concentrations of thallium, manganese, lead, or mercury.Two of the samples contained elevated levels of arsenic, but followup analyses of those samples determined that the arsenic was of the organic variety, suggesting dietary origins.

Arsenic levels in the other 70 samples were within normal ranges. Aerospace Systems Development Center 15400 management and staff occupying Bldg. 807’s first floor asked for broader medical testing following reports from some employees that bioassays conducted by their private physicians indicated the presence of thallium in blood samples (Lab News, Dec. 15, 2000). Sandia’s Medical staff offered the urinalyses after toxicological experts recommended this procedure as a preferred method (rather than blood analyses) in cases of possible long-term, low-level exposure.

“These results, together with the industrial hygiene sampling and analysis from last spring,provide some reassurance that employees in the building are not experiencing current, low-level exposures to these metals,” says Sandia Medical Director Dr. Larry Clevenger (3300). “But we still have a lot more questions than answers in this investigation.”

No new answers

The negative bioassay results, while they rep-resent another step in unraveling the Bldg. 807mystery, says Larry, still leave employees without an answer to the question that has been driving the investigation for more than a year: “What is causing some people who have worked in Bldg.807 to feel ill?”“The bioassay results are reassuring to the people living in Bldg. 807,” says Jerry McDowell,15400 Director. “However, the most profound symptoms were experienced by people with offices in a hallway that was evacuated several months ago. Unfortunately, we did not collect bioassay data from people while they were residing in the most suspect area of the building. As a result, many employees are still looking for answers.”So far no current or past hazard has been identified that explains the health problems of the more than 50 people who are concerned that something in the building might have caused a variety of health issues. (For a summary of the investigation, see http://www.sandia.gov/health/advisory/index.html.)

“We are looking for advice from people that have many years of experience investigating these types of problems.”

Independent sampling

The Bldg. 807 Management Action Team,headed by VP-7000 Lynn Jones, now is exploring new ways of asking the question in hopes they will lead to answers. Sandia this month opened a services contract with IHI Environmental, a private environmental consulting company based in Salt Lake City, to perform an independent indoor environmental quality assessment of Bldg. 807. Early last year, Sandia’s industrial hygiene experts collected and analyzed nearly 200 air, dust, breathing zone, and drinking water samples from the building’s offices, common work areas,and HVAC systems to try to pinpoint a chemical that might be causing the health concerns.That effort turned up nothing indicating the presence of a current health hazard.“Our employee advisory team recommended that a comprehensive, independent evaluation of the facility was a necessary component of the investigation process,” says Larry. “Results from such an evaluation would provide additional information about specific areas of Building 807and would be a helpful complement to the studies completed earlier in the year by Sandia’s industrial hygiene staff.”

Six-phase building assessment

Jeff Downs (7124) and Judy Davenport(15405), working with a group of concerned employees, helped define the contract’s requirements and guided the contractor-selection process, beginning with a pool of 14 candidate companies specializing in building health evaluations. IHI will follow a six-phase approach to its assessment of the building. The first phase, to begin within a month, will include literature research to correlate the employees’ reported neurological and respiratory symptoms with possible toxins and then develop three alternative plans to detect the presence of agents likely to cause these symptoms.In phases 2 through 6, IHI will conduct new sampling and analysis in the building, develop and carry out plans to characterize or quantify exposures to any identified toxins, and coordinate remediation of identified exposure sources, if necessary. IHI will have access to historical, design, and industrial hygiene information regarding the building throughout the investigation and will collaborate with the University of New Mexico team con-ducting an epidemiological study of the building. That work is expected to be completed by late spring, says Larry.“An independent team will bring in expertise in areas that Sandia has not investigated yet, such as looking at microbial activity,” says Judy. “We are looking for advice from people that have many years of experience investigating these types of problems, whether they are building, environmental, or program-related.” A planned project to renovate a filter bank serving the building’s induction ventilation air-intake system has been put on hold until IHI can assess the filters, says Johnny Vaughan (7000). Seethe Bldg. 807 investigation Web site for details about the work.

The next level of understanding

Meanwhile the epidemiological study of the reported illnesses by doctors at UNM’s Health Sciences Center continues. In late December UNM mailed questionnaires to some 700 people,including former and current Bldg. 807 occupants and some non-occupants who will serve as a control group. UNM will use data from the survey to try to understand, from an epidemiological perspective,how the prevalence rates and distributions of symptoms experienced by individual 807 occupants differ from other populations.“It is important that every individual who receives a questionnaire complete and return it to UNM,” says Larry. “These survey results will be very helpful in better understanding the health issues that have surfaced in the investigation.”He says the initial phase of the study, which might result in new hypotheses and a recommendation for more specific studies, should be completed in the next few months.“The epidemiological study will allow us to do some stratification and analysis so we can try to isolate some of the health issues,” he says.“We hope they will get us to the next level of understanding.”

Sandia science fair judges encourage nextgeneration of Labs’ technical talent

IT’S LIKE THIS — Sandia geophysicist Marianne Walck, Manager of Geophysical Technology Dept. 6116,explains the internal dynamics of a volcano to a fourth-grade student at Collette Park Elementary School in Albuquerque during the school’s Feb. 13 science fair. During science fair season, scores of Sandians volunteer their time and expertise as judges. (Photo by Randy Montoya)