Longstanding concerns about Western Massachusetts’ busiest courthouse are garnering new attention.
Massachusetts Congressman Richard Neal has asked the Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency to investigate the Roderick L. Ireland courthouse in Springfield, where for a decade state employees and attorneys who practice in the building have voiced concerns about air quality, water leaks, broken elevators and other issues.
“We are asking for the cooperation of the federal government which has, let’s face it, more tools than anyone else when it comes to these kinds of issues,” Neal said. “The federal government has a long reach.
The Springfield Democrat said he contacted the agencies after being approached by the Hampden County Bar Association.
Neal said he spoke personally with US Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, who oversees OSHA.
“We intend here to follow the science and offer no opinion until we know exactly what the findings are,” Neal said Monday as he addressed a gathering of lawyers and officials. Courthouse employees gathered on the patio outside the building at 50 State Street.
Tests carried out by an expert hired for a lawsuit seeking to force the permanent closure of Ireland’s courthouse have revealed toxic mold in vents, behind walls and under carpets, lawyers said this week.
Jeffrey Morneau, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said maintenance issues have persisted for years, as evidenced by numerous water-stained ceiling tiles, areas that have been repainted and a recent sewage leak that leaked out. spilled on a floor.
“The issues in this building are clear to the naked eye,” Morneau said. “You don’t have to be an expert to walk around there to see there are problems.”
A courthouse staff environmental advisory committee said five people who once worked in the building – including three judges – have died of ALS. There have been at least 60 cases of cancer over the past two decades.
About 500 people are assigned to work in the building and more than 1,000 people come daily because they have cases before the courts or have been selected for jurorship.
Both the Hampden County Deeds Registry and the Hampden District Attorney have moved most of their staff out of the building to satellite offices or to work from home. Hampden County Sheriff Nick Cocchi is no longer transporting inmates to the courthouse, instead providing them with live video connections.
But Hampden County Clerk Laura Gentile said her staff should report for work in the building while the magistrates’ courts are open there.
“We can’t just stop,” Gentile said. “People deserve their day in court. They must have their day in court.
Gentile was the first person to go public with health and safety concerns about the courthouse. After being elected clerk in 2012, she sent a detailed report to the trial court administrator and testified at a state Senate committee hearing.
“And here we are nine years later,” she said with a tone of frustration.
Members of the city’s state legislative delegation tried for years to secure funds to build a new courthouse.
Recently, the trial court said it would carry out repairs and renovations at an estimated cost of $90 million. A new courthouse would cost more than $200 million, according to the court administration.