by Raphael Lewis, Globe Staff
The Big Dig’s schedule took another small hit yesterday, after high levels of airborne toxic mold at a job site forced the evacuation of laborers finishing a vent building, project and union officials said.
The work at Vent Building Number 4 near Haymarket Square in downtown Boston is critical to the opening of the northbound section of the new underground expressway, which was supposed to occur Dec. 10 but had already been put off to an undetermined date early next year.
Sean O’Neill, a project spokesman, said the mold problem would probably take a few days to eradicate by power-washing walls with bleach and providing better drainage.
He said it had yet to be determined who would ultimately pay for the mold problem, the cleanup, and the work stoppage. That finding, he said, would be made after a thorough investigation.
”This is not a significant hit to the schedule,” said O’Neill. ”But the primary concern as always is the health and welfare of the workers, and if the schedule has to suffer for a few days, that’s a hell of a lot better than the workers suffering.”
A union official for a subcontractor at the job site, who asked to remain anonymous, said that hints of the problem had been evident for many months. An inordinate number of workers, he said, had suffered bronchitis, colds, chronic runny noses, and hacking coughs.
The workers, he said, had never realized that the splotches of green mold evident over the walls and exit signs on the building’s lowest three floors could be the culprit.
Last week, a contractor on the job, Fischbach and Moore, brought in an industrial hygienist, whose tests found high levels of mold in the air, prompting several subcontractors to pull their workers from the building’s lowest floors.
Their work is critical to the completion of the project, however, so the delays will almost certainly extend the time it will take to open the Artery’s northbound portion. Without working vent buildings, which control air flow and even some electrical power for the tunnels, the federal government and local police and fire officials have said they will not allow the public to drive on the roadways.
Fischbach and Moore will return today with another industrial hygienist to conduct further tests.
”We’ve been complaining about this for a year and a half, but nothing’s happened until now,” the union official said.
Matthew Carroll of the Globe s taff contributed to this report.
This story ran on page B2 of the Boston Globe on 10/18/2002.
© 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.