Mountain View Voice

News - March 8, 2013

Pregnant Google employees concerned about TCE exposure

by Daniel DeBolt

A local expert on TCE issues says he spoke to Google employees who were exposed to toxic vapors while pregnant. Both worked at 369 and 379 Whisman Road, the pair of Google buildings found with elevated levels of toxic vapors late last year.

"They wanted to know more about it and whether they were at risk," said Lenny Siegel, director of the Center for Public Environmental Oversight in Mountain View. "From what I can tell, there were several and they knew each other."

Because the women had not been in the buildings during the first trimester of pregnancy, "it's unlikely there were impacts, but it wouldn't hurt to tell their pediatrician about it," Siegel said he told the women.

As far as the women know, their babies were born healthy, Siegel said.

After a recent review of TCE (trichloroethylene) studies done over the years, toxicologists from the Environmental Protection Agency said recently that there is "strong evidence" that a mother's exposure to TCE during the first trimester can cause malformations of the fetal heart as it undergoes critical stages of development over a period of three weeks.

Toxicologists employed by the polluting businesses in Mountain View disagree and have pointed to studies that contradict that conclusion.

Siegel said that he spoke with two women directly, but another pregnant woman's situation came up as well. The women delivered their babies in October and January. Google began occupying the buildings in July.

According to indoor air sampling results from January, the building now has only trace amounts of TCE vapors, amounts well below the 5 micrograms per cubic meter limit local EPA officials have proposed for office buildings, based on exposure during a 50-hour work week. In December, levels were as high as 7.8 micrograms per cubic meter had been found in one building, and 6.4 in the other.

Siegel also said he looked to see if the women worked in the portions of the buildings where the highest indoor air concentrations were found — high enough to cause birth defects from short term exposures.

"They were not necessarily in the area with the highest levels," Siegel said.

Siegel said the Mountain View site is the first in the country to apply indoor air vapor intrusion limits designed to protect against the effects of short-term exposures, particularly for pregnant women.

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