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Rep. Neal calls for OSHA, EPA to look into air quality concerns at Springfield courthouse

U.S. Rep. Richard Neal addresses reporters outside the Roderick Ireland Courthouse in Springfield, Massachusetts, on March 14, 2022.
Sam Hudzik
U.S. Rep. Richard Neal addresses reporters outside the Roderick Ireland Courthouse in Springfield, Massachusetts, on March 14, 2022.

U.S. Rep. Richard Neal is calling on the U.S. Department of Labor and the EPA to look into allegations of toxic mold at the Roderick Ireland Courthouse in Springfield, Massachusetts.

The Republican newspaper reports a study discovering the cancer-causing mold was commissioned by lawyers representing courthouse employees. They are seeking to shut down the building.

Outside the courthouse Monday, Neal told reporters he was contacted about the matter by the Hampden County Bar Association.

"We intend here to follow the science of what's happened — not to offer any opinions until we know exactly what the conclusions are," Neal said.

Among courthouse employees in recent years, Neal noted five cases of Lou Gehrig's disease — also called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS — and dozens of cancer diagnoses.

Neal said Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh was "comfortable" with the request for OSHA to look into courthouse conditions.

"I think that Secretary Walsh made it pretty clear that he was going to get after this right away," Neal said. "And on the EPA front, I assume that they will do the [same]."

But a spokesperson for the Department of Labor indicated officials would take a more passive role in any inquiry.

“Congressman Neal has brought the conditions at the courthouse to our attention," the spokesperson said in an email. "While OSHA does not have jurisdiction over state buildings, the department stands ready to assist state and local officials with technical assistance and any tools we have available to address the problems onsite to ensure those in the building are safe and healthy.”

An EPA spokesperson had no immediate comment.

A spokesperson for the state Trial Court, Erika Gully-Santiago, said Monday the court "appreciates" Neal's comments and the "attention being paid to the Ireland Courthouse at the federal level."

"We will work with any federal agencies that reach out to the Trial Court and welcome their involvement," she said in an email.

Despite calls by some Springfield officials to replace the courthouse, the state released a report in February outlining needed repairs. The roughly $90 million renovation could start in 2024.

Neal on Monday was not interested in offering up federal money for a new courthouse.

"That's the responsibility of the state," he said. "It is not my intention to have the federal government build a new courthouse for the state."

Sheriff Nick Cocchi said last week he would stop sending people in his custody to the courthouse — as he did last summer in response to reports of mold.

Jurors are also concerned, with some reportedly asking for their trials to move to a different building.

Neal said that's a "reasonable consideration."

"You can't ask people to sit in judgment of others if they are frightened of their own well-being inside the courthouse," he said.

Still, Neal said if he were summoned for jury duty, he'd honor the request.

"I don't know enough about it," he said, "but I would honor the request to be here, for sure, and have in the past."

Updated: March 14, 2022 at 10:21 PM EDT
The story has been updated to include comments from the federal Department of Labor and the state Trial Court.
Sam Hudzik has overseen local news coverage on New England Public Media since 2013. He manages a team of about a dozen full- and part-time reporters and hosts.
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