More than a dozen FBI agents hospitalized after $750K sculpture makes them sick
In 2015, the General Services Administration (GSA) commissioned a 17-foot wooden sculpture for the FBI's Miami field office.
No one expected that the beautiful new piece would make more than a dozen FBI agents seriously ill.
The structure was "likely worth more than the $750,000 the government paid" according to Politico. Now it's just sitting in storage in Maryland.
The piece of work, titled "Cedrus," was created by a Brooklyn-based artist named Ursula von Rydingsvard.
She is known for her large wooden structures, and has public displays outdoors at places such as MIT.
See more of her artwork:
The particular sculpture installed at the Miami field office was made of Western red cedar -- something many people are seriously allergic to.
According to Politico, several people were hospitalized -- and one FBI employee even spent 11 days in the hospital after exposure.
Even the office nurse had to move to another facility after getting sick.
"Upon the installation of the art sculpture, the nurse developed rhinitis, difficulty swallowing, sinus pressure, sneezing, has difficulty breathing and began to itch all over," one of the internal FBI documents obtained by Politico says.
The GSA, which manages leases for government buildings, insisted that the sculpture did not make anyone sick.
Michael Goodwin, a regional director for the GSA, said the artwork should stay -- in fact, according to Politico, he said the FBI endangered the artwork by covering it with tarps.
According to the CDC and OSHA, Western red cedar is a "highly allergenic species of soft wood," and there are rules about how long people can be exposed to it. The rules protect workers in industrial workers.
The GSA reportedly brought in OSHA to run tests, and they did not find any hazardous substances in the buildings that would violate air quality standards for American workplaces.
The total bill for the incident has surpassed $1.2 million.
GSA spokesperson Saudia Muwwakkil told Gizmodo that the organization took immediate action when it became aware that people were ill, claiming Politico did not accurately represent its stance.
The agency said in a statement that they immediately contained the artwork in plastic, "enhanced air filtration" and "deep cleaned" the office. Later, they consulted with the Federal Occupational Health (FOH) agency.
According to the GSA statement, the FOH "found insufficient evidence to implicate the artwork as the source of health conditions reported by FBI employees."
Muwwakkil told Gizmodo she's consulting with employees about the incident and will release any more information as it becomes available.
See photos of the building involved in this story: