Brown Demands Answers on Behalf of Cleveland Social Security Office Administration Workers who Fell Ill Following Pesticide Exposure

Senator: Problem Made Worse When Contaminated Furniture Was Donated to Local Charity, Potentially Putting Vulnerable Ohioans at Risk

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), today, demanded answers from the General Services Administration (GSA) – which oversees federal government buildings across the country – on an incident at the Downtown Cleveland Social Security Administration (SSA) Office which left some staff ill. 

In an attempt to treat a bug infestation at the office, pesticides intended for outside use were applied indoors and others were applied incorrectly. Now, Brown is asking the GSA’s Great Lakes regional administrator to refer the matter to the Office of the Inspector General for further investigation, and to determine whether any long-term health issues are associated with the misuse of these pesticides. Brown’s office has been in touch with the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents workers at the Cleveland office, on the incident.

“There is no excuse for this kind of carelessness. It’s already unacceptable that Ohioans were put at risk when the chemical was misused in the first place, and to know that contaminated furniture was potentially donated to an unsuspecting charity is reprehensible,” Brown said. “People deserve answers and I intend to get them.”

Furniture in the office was later donated to Catholic Charities. Brown is demanding GSA take steps to ensure more Ohioans aren’t exposed to risks as a result.

Full text of the letter is below.

Ms. Ann P. Kalayil

Regional Administrator, Great Lakes Region

General Services Administration

230 S. Dearborn Street, Room 3700

Chicago, IL 60604


Dear Regional Administrator Kalayil:


I am writing regarding an incident that occurred on February 19, 2016, at the Downtown Cleveland Social Security Administration (SSA) Office. I ask that you direct the General Services Administration (GSA) Office of the Inspector General to investigate.


Earlier this year, a subcontractor at the Anthony J. Celebrezze Federal Building in Cleveland, Ohio, attempted to treat a bug infestation at the building.  According to press reports, the Ohio Department of Agriculture found that pesticides solely intended for outside usage were applied indoors and other pesticides intended for specific applications were used inappropriately. Despite this, the SSA office was opened and staff were required to report to their duty station. Federal workers at the building reported a number of illnesses and side effects entirely consistent with contact with the pesticides that were misapplied.


This incident is deeply troubling.  To make matters worse, if reports are true, once the misapplication was known and furniture sprayed with these pesticides was deemed unsafe for workers, that contaminated furniture was donated to Catholic Charities – putting unsuspecting, vulnerable citizens at risk.


It is clear that steps must be taken to care for both the employees and customers who came into contact with these highly toxic chemicals.  Steps must also be taken to ensure that this sort of incident doesn’t happen again.


To that end, I request an expedited response to the following questions:


1)      Has the GSA determined how the pesticide was misapplied?

2)      Has the GSA determined who made and approved the decision to use outdoor pesticides?

3)      When did the GSA learn of this error? 

4)      Since learning of this mistake, what steps have been taken to ensure the facility is clean and safe for employees and customers?

5)      Since learning of this mistake, have there been any reported health issues? Has GSA determined whether any long-term health impacts could be associated with the misuse of these pesticides?

6)      What steps have been taken to ensure that employees and visitors to the facility were notified about this potential exposure?

7)      Have arrangements been made to assist employees or visitors determined to have health issues related to the pesticides?

8)      Has Catholic Charities been informed about the possible contamination of the donated furniture? Is there a plan to assist them in remediation?

9)      How was additional contaminated furniture or material disposed of?

10)  What steps have been taken to ensure that such an incident does not occur again at this or any other facility operated by the GSA?


In addition to your responses, please provide my office with a timeline detailing all relevant facts.  I appreciate your service to our nation and your prompt and thorough response to my questions.




Sherrod Brown

United States Senator