Workers at the Montana Department of Environmental Quality are back at work today, scattered in four locations around Helena.
The employees were out of work starting Monday when the department shut down its headquarters building because tests showed high levels of lead residue throughout the building, sometimes as high as 40 times greater than federal standards.
We’re glad the department employees are back doing their valuable work. Trust us, their work is very valuable, despite what you may have heard from some members of the Montana Legislature this last session. The department does its work very well.
But our joy at seeing the workers back helping to guarantee our Montana constitutionally guaranteed right to a clean and healthful environment is tempered by one question that is yet unanswered: How did the Department of Environmental Quality, of all agencies, allow itself to stay in a building so polluted for so long.
The Remediation Division, which includes the people who oversee the cleanup of polluted locations, was housed in the building.
The building was once home to the Montana Army National Guard, and it included a firing range. The firing range area was remediated for lead, but the rest of the building was not.
Hopefully, the building will soon be cleaned up and workers will be back in place. Hopefully, none of the employees will have suffered any lingering effects of the lead.
But employees and taxpayers in general should insist on two things.
1. All state buildings and offices should be tested to see that they are safe for our workers. We don’t need a repeat of this fiasco.
2. DEQ should find out just what went wrong.
If this kind of pollution were found in a private building, we’d be demanding a DEQ investigation.
DEQ director Tracy Stone-Manning said workers will conduct a scientific and historical study to see what went wrong. It’s about time.
The people who work in these buildings are employees of all Montanans. We have a right to know that our employees are working in safe conditions.