Complaints of diesel fumes in workplace ongoing
BY KEVIN BONESKE
Following several years of complaints and ongoing discussions about the odor of diesel exhaust in the Rhinelander-Oneida County Airport basement, where the county’s University of Wisconsin-Extension office is located, the county’s Conservation and UW-Extension Committee backed a motion Monday to move the UW-Extension out of the airport basement to a desirable location acceptable to the office’s staff.
Committee members discussed possible temporary and permanent options as to how to handle situations when UW-Extension staff members report they are not able to work in the airport basement when they notice the presence of fumes from diesel exhaust.
Diesel exhaust was confirmed in the airport basement, during time periods when a jet aircraft was on the ramp or baggage was being unloaded, in an “industrial hygiene survey” completed Feb. 9-12 by Sharon Bessa of Bessa and Associates and Daniel Karamanski of the UW-Extension.
The survey also found the various emissions detected that could be related to diesel exhaust, such as nitrogen dioxide and carbon dioxide, did not exceed allowable federal limits for the workplace. But the fumes from the diesel exhaust, which have been reported to be the most problematic during the winter months, have led to some UW-Extension staff members to leave the office when noticing the fumes.
“To the extent that at times they must leave the office, because of sensitivity to diesel fumes are somehow infiltrating the office area, there’s been efforts on the part of the UW-Extension and the airport to resolve the problem,” said committee chairman Bob Mott. “We put a wall back there where the elevator comes down, they’ve done the negative air flow reduction here and neither one of those things have solved the problem.
“We don’t know for sure where the diesel fumes are infiltrating, but we know the fact is that some people can’t work in it, and some people have had to go home in order to get work accomplished, some can get work accomplished at home. But in my mind, it’s not the ideal situation when part of your staff isn’t here.”
Mott said an engineering study was supposed to be done of the workplace environment in the airport basement to find out where the diesel fumes are infiltrating and also provide an estimate of how much it would cost to solve the problem, but the UW-Extension hasn’t been able to find an engineering firm to do that study.
“First of all, we didn’t know what the study would cost, because we don’t have the engineering firm to do it, so we’re just shooting out figures of what it would cost,” he said. “Secondly, if we can’t find someone to do it, obviously, we can’t go ahead with that option.”
Rather than pursue an engineering study, Mott said the temporary relocation of some UW-Extension staff members has been looked into as a “stopgap” measure.
UW-Extension 4-H and Youth Development agent Lynn Feldman said there could be a room available near the courthouse’s front entrance where up to two UW-Extension staff members may be able work temporarily, pending approval by the county Buildings and Grounds Committee at its Sept. 6 meeting.
“If things were structured the way they were last winter, where everybody was able to leave if necessary to go to other locations – work from home, all of the things that were in place last winter – that because this is recognized as only temporary, that we would go with that,” Feldman said.
However, Feldman and Family Living agent Sara Richie also spoke against splitting up the UW-Extension staff with offices at different locations.
“I don’t see temporary as an option, because UW-Extension is a unified front where everybody is working together on projects,” Feldman said. “We also have office staff answering questions with walk-in traffic, and so to divide people up you lose your customers service base right off of that.”
“No UW-Extension office has people all over the place,” Richie said. “They’re all in one place.”
In the event she would be temporarily moved elsewhere, Richie said it should be a place where she would go to every day, so as not to waste time going between there and the airport basement.
Committee member Jim Winkler, who also previously was the county’s 4-H and Youth Development agent, spoke in favor of a permanent place to move the UW-Extension office, noting he was familiar with the problem staff people were having with the workplace environment in the airport basement.
Committee members reviewed some possible locations for a permanent move, such as sites on the 1800 block of Stevens Street and the Sunrise Plaza along Lincoln Street near Shopko, but held off picking a site by agreeing to get more information on possible locations where the UW-Extension office could be relocated.
The committee members also agreed to seek more information on the fiscal impact for the county to lease another location and what would be the impact to no longer lease airport basement space for the UW-Extension.
Feldman, who received authorization from the committee to work with county Buildings and Grounds director LuAnn Brunette regarding the possible relocation of the UW-Extension office, said she would also be looking into the availability of space at the courthouse for temporary use.