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Citicorp comp hearing ends

September 05, 1997

By TERRY TALBERT

Staff Writer

Several Citicorp Credit Services workers who claim they got sick from fumes from sewage backups at the Hagerstown plant last September and this May could find out as early as next month whether they are entitled to state workers' compensation benefits.

The seven current and former Citicorp employees made their case at a three-day Workers' Compensation Commission hearing in Hagerstown that ended Friday.

They're asking for "temporary total disability" benefits for time lost from work, because they claim they were injured on the job by sewage fumes and fumes from cleaning chemicals and deodorizers.

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Others have filed similar claims. Workers' compensation Attorney Bill Proctor, who represents several of the Citicorp workers, said four or five other cases he's involved in will be heard at a later date.

Citicorp and its insurance company are fighting the claims.

Retired Workers' Compensation Commission Commissioner J. Max Millstone was brought back to hear last week's cases. He said he will decide each case separately, after reviewing the medical evidence and testimony.

At the hearing, workers said they got sick after sewage backups under Citicorp Building No. 2 on Sept. 23, 1996, and May 2, 1997. The September incident was the worst, they said.

Some of the symptoms reported by workers include difficulty breathing, short-term memory loss, nausea, migraines, bronchitis, joint pain and swelling, skin rashes and burning in the eyes, nose and mouth.

Some said they had tried to go back to work, only to have their symptoms return as soon as they re-entered Building No. 2.

At the hearing, Citicorp attorneys Gina Householder and Mike Prokopik questioned the workers extensively about their prior medical history, including whether they smoked.

Under questioning by Prokopik and Householder, some workers said they had suffered from allergies and/or migraine headaches in the past. They claimed those symptoms either got worse, or returned, after the sewage backups occurred. Others said they had not had such symptoms before.

One woman said her doctors told her that blood vessels in her left eye ruptured as a result of her headaches. Householder asked her whether there was a history of high blood pressure in her family. She said there was, but she did not have high blood pressure.

Workers' descriptions of the odors they smelled after the sewage backups included "strong kitty litter that hadn't been cleaned in a month," and "sewage and rotten eggs."

State Occupational Safety and Health Administration notes of the September incident showed chemicals were used in the cleanup and in an attempt to mask odors after the September sewage backup.

OSHA was not involved in the May incident, which company officials said was minor. No chemical cleanup was necessary in that case, but deodorizers were used to mask lingering odors, they said.

Citicorp managers said that in the days after the sewage backups, workers were given the option of moving to other work areas and were told they could take off sick without penalty if the fumes made them ill.

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