BELTSVILLE, MD – In a new development that raises serious concerns about workplace safety, staff at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Beltsville Agricultural Research Center (BARC) have once again blown the whistle, this time exposing shocking lapses in the facility's maintenance and ventilation systems.
This revelation comes four months after an initial complaint was filed with the U.S. Office of the Special Counsel (OSC) alleging a litany of safety issues, including mismanagement, poor lab ventilation, broken fire alarms, and temperature fluctuations that jeopardized employee well-being.
Following the initial complaint, which garnered widespread attention after being exclusively reported by Reuters, USDA was forced to shut down one of its major research buildings at the Beltsville site for emergency repairs. In response, the OSC ordered a thorough investigation into the workers' allegations.
Now, a copy of the latest complaint obtained by Reuters reveals alarming new hazards. The complaint, submitted to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), highlights the neglect of critical maintenance tasks, particularly concerning the facility's chillers, which are integral to the temperature regulation system. Shockingly, these chillers have reportedly gone without maintenance for more than three years. Industry standards dictate that such maintenance should occur on a regular schedule, ranging from daily to annually.
Experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stress the vital importance of chiller maintenance, as neglecting these systems can allow the proliferation of Legionella bacteria, known to cause the deadly lung infection Legionnaire's disease. The failure to properly maintain these chillers poses a severe risk not only to the facility's staff but also to the surrounding community.
Furthermore, the complaint points to another grievous lapse, claiming that most of the numerous buildings on BARC's sprawling 7,000-acre campus have been without potable water since the end of 2018. Equally disturbing, it alleges that several buildings have "unknown substances growing out of ventilation systems," raising fears of hazardous mold or other contaminants circulating within the facility.
In response to these damning allegations, a spokesperson for the USDA's Agricultural Research Service, which oversees BARC, asserted that "our employees' health and well-being is our top priority" and that the USDA is diligently investigating these claims while concurrently pursuing efforts to modernize the facility and address employee concerns.
The latest complaint only intensifies the spotlight on BARC's ongoing safety issues, putting added pressure on the USDA to take swift and comprehensive action to ensure the well-being of its dedicated staff and the surrounding community. As federal regulators delve deeper into these allegations, the eyes of the nation remain fixed on the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center, demanding accountability for the safety and health of all those connected to this vital institution.