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FAA Delayed Evacuating Dulles Tower Wednesday for 45 Minutes, Making a Dangerous Situation With Carbon Monoxide Fumes Even Worse - (5/10/2007)

CONTACT:     Kieron Heflin, NATCA Dulles Facility Rep., 703-786-3632


WASHINGTON – The Federal Aviation Administration delayed evacuating air traffic control tower personnel at Washington Dulles Airport on Wednesday morning for 45 minutes, resulting in prolonged exposure to high levels of carbon monoxide fumes that ended up sending five people to the hospital and providing the third major recent example of a botched FAA response to a health problem in a major air traffic control facility in the Eastern United States.
 

As a result, Dulles controllers are demanding that carbon monoxide detectors be installed at both the current tower and the new Dulles tower that is being completed for future opening. 

The Dulles incident comes just two months after a botched roofing project and a badly delayed and ineffective cleanup effort at Jacksonville Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) resulted in employees having to breathe toxic odors. Five controllers are still out and being treated by the Mayo Clinic. And on April 25, scheduled maintenance on an engine generator at the New York TRACON sent diesel exhaust fumes into the ventilation system for the building, resulting in a slow leak of deadly carbon monoxide gas. Six controllers in the Newark Area were sickened but FAA management prevented them from leaving the room to seek fresh air and medical attention and even denied a request to call the fire department for assistance. 

At Dulles Tower on Wednesday, the cause of the fumes was construction work at the airport, but the FAA response to protect employees was slow. Contributing to the problem was the fact that FAA managers at the facility no longer work in the tower with controllers. They have moved to offices in the new tower. Because managers are not with their employees, they had to be called with updates and could not quickly respond to what was happening and make decisions at the speed needed for maximum safety. 

The sickened controllers who went to a nearby hospital were released after being treated for carbon monoxide exposure. Most were suffering from dizziness, lightheadedness, faintness, burning throat with the taste of fumes, elevated blood pressure and burning eyes. 

National Air Traffic Controllers Association officials have been advised that at 20 parts per million of carbon monoxide, the tower should have been evacuated. But local fire and rescue officials who were on scene initially measured the amount of carbon monoxide at 28 parts per million and later told hospital officials, according to controllers, that the level peaked at 35 parts per million.


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