University of Hawaii Professional Assembly union leader John Radcliffe had some harsh words regarding state government Feb 12.

In a private speech to faculty, Radcliffe said: “… And it is pretty clear that the state has not had enough money to buy air conditioning filters for years — so most government buildings are full of mold and virus — and the workers who are left are sick workers.”

That’s a serious charge, even if Radcliffe was using hyperbole to prove a point.

His claim has three parts: 1) The state has not had enough money for years to buy air conditioning filters; 2) Most government buildings are full of mold and virus; and 3) Workers are sick.

We’ll take them one at a time.

Air Conditioning Filters

Dean Shimomura, engineer six with the Hawaii Department of Accounting and General Service’s central services, told Civil Beat DAG contracts out the work to inspect and change air conditioning filters.

He said it is a requirement within those contracts to purchase and replace the filters.

“Our contract requires them to replace filters every other month and it also requires them to replace them more frequently if needed,” Shimomura said.

DAG does not handle the filter changes for all government buildings around the state but it does manage about 70 public buildings, including the Hawaii State Capitol, public libraries, the Department of Health, office buildings that supply state ID cards, and the administrative building for the Department of Education.

When asked if it was accurate to say that the state has not been able to afford air conditioning filters for years, Shimomura replied: “At least for DAG, that’s not correct.”

Comptroller of DAG, Bruce Coppa, echoed Shimomura.

“As you know the state has many maintenance issues, backlogs, both in the schools and in the buildings and that’s because of the economy,” Coppa told Civil Beat. “That said, the number one responsibility for us is safety and health and related to that, we never shy away from any of that. So I would tell you that as far as air conditioning filters, anything that’s breathing air, anything that’s dangerous for electrical or plumbing, that’s in the area of safety and health, we’re going to take care of it. We have that responsibility.”

This part of Radcliffe’s claim appears to be false.

Mold and Virus

For the mold and virus question, Civil Beat approached the Hawaii Department of Health. When asked if it is accurate to say “most government buildings are full of mold and virus,” DOH spokeswoman Janice Okubo replied via e-mail: “No.”

However, she clarified that, “‘Full’ is not a quantifiable word in indoor air quality. We do inspect facilities and make recommendations to DAGS to resolve problems.”

Okubo said that in cases of biological contaminants, the DOH recommends proper removal. She said the majority of contaminants “are isolated cases stemming from floods, roof leaks, condensation, etc.”

Okubo also said the number of air quality complaints has remained steady for the past decade.

In terms of the procedure for assessing mold/viruses in public buildings, Okubo wrote: “The DOH Indoor and Radiological Health Branch currently investigates ALL complaints of poor indoor air quality in public buildings to assess the possible causes of problems. Reports are generated which include visual observations, data (mainly temperature/relative humidity/dew point readings), photographs, and recommendations for corrective actions as needed. All rooms and air conditioning systems are inspected if accessible. The reports are sent to DAGS and/or building managers for follow-up.”

In case you believe the Department of Health could be biased in reporting mold problems, Civil Beat also approached the state’s largest labor union – the Hawaii Government Employees Association, with 43,000 members.

HGEA Communications Officer Jodi Chai said in an e-mail: “I just received confirmation that we don’t have any pending cases about mold issues, and recently have not been made aware of any such problems by any of our members.”

Radcliffe’s claim regarding mold and virus is false.

Most Government Workers Are Sick

For this claim, we again went to the Health Department and Chai.

Okubo told Civil Beat it would be an impossibility – or near impossibility – to prove one way or another.

“We do not have an answer for that, as that would entail a full epidemiological study that would have to rule out illness from outside causes,” Okubo wrote in her e-mail.

Chai could not point to any health problems.

Conclusion

In sum, nothing in Radcliff’s statement was accurate. Two pieces of the comment were false and a third was unverifiable or false. It seems safe to say that regarding air filters, mold, virus and the health of government workers, Radcliffe is off base.