AOC to Test Capitol Formaldehyde Levels

Posted July 11, 2008 at 6:23pm

The Office of the Architect of the Capitol will be testing the complex’s formaldehyde levels after a higher-than-normal concentration of the toxic chemical was discovered by the minority staff of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

In response, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who sits on the committee, sent a letter last week asking the AOC to conduct a “reliable, scientific and comprehensive study of formaldehyde levels” at the Capitol complex.

The highest level, 80 parts per billion, was found in Room 2153 in the Rayburn House Office Building. The reading is only 20 points away from the 100 ppb level that federal groups such as the Environmental Protection Agency have said raises health concerns.

Formaldehyde levels of 10 ppb to 30 ppb are found in most modern homes.

If the numbers are “too high then the Capitol is going to have to drive that number down by changing carpeting, using different materials or increasing the flow of the air,” Issa said. “It’s a great opportunity to look at a place that millions of people go through every year.”

In response to the letter, the Office of the Architect of the Capitol said it will be conducting tests of the air quality to ensure that the complex is safe for all who enter it. The tests will take eight-hour measurements of the air to gauge average workplace exposures.

“The health and well-being of all those who work and visit the Capitol complex is a top priority of the AOC, and we continually work to ensure a safe environment is maintained for all,” Eva Malecki, spokeswoman for the Office of the Architect of the Capitol, said in a statement.

The testing, which also has the support of the House Administration Committee, comes in response to a hearing on Wednesday about formaldehyde levels in Federal Emergency Management Agency trailers housing victims of Hurricane Katrina. Those levels averaged 77 ppb.

“We have concerns over the levels that the House of Representatives might be at, and getting a baseline on that is reasonable,” Issa said. “It’s not a stunt because our hearing really prompted this kind of a follow-up.”

Formaldehyde is a common indoor pollutant to which long-term exposure is said to cause respiratory problems and possibly cancer. Government agencies, such as the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, vary in what they consider a dangerous level, making it hard to create uniform rules and standards.