How many New Jersey Lottery Managers does it take to promptly remove a million dollars worth of moldy, smelly lottery tickets?

Apparently more than they currently have, as it took more than 6 months to remove storm damaged lottery tickets that appear to have made some employees sick.  The employees filed worker's compensation claims after being exposed to the approximately 400,000 moldy lottery tickets for more than six months. They worked in a warehouse at the state lottery headquarters in Lawrence and were tasked with auditing the tickets which had been damaged by Superstorm Sandy. The employees claim to have made numerous complaints about the smell and related health threats. The state claims to have responded appropriately to their concerns.

Spokesman for the New Jersey Department of Treasury, Bill Quinn, was quoted as saying:

“Lottery managers as well as human resources and occupational safety and health professionals at the Treasury Department took these complaints seriously, responded promptly and took immediate action to protect lottery employees who were working in the warehouse from exposure to mold and any potential impact on their health. After the CWA [employee union] complained about the possible presence of mold on the tickets last November, all auditing work on the water-damaged tickets was suspended until the workers could be supplied with protective gear, including masks, suits and gloves, and trained on how to safely handle any boxes that contained water-damaged tickets.”

Indeed, the core of the issue seems to be that once the auditing was done, the state was very slow to remove and destroy these tickets. The tickets had been wrapped in plastic, and any mold condition was thought by management to be contained. Turns out that was not the case, as at least several of the containers had become “unwrapped” at some point.

In fact, the employee union contacted the state regarding the moldy tickets 3 times, November 30th, April 3rd and April 18th. The state did not actually act on the tickets until the owner of the warehouse issued a threatening letter, giving them 15 days to remove them, and asking what remediation would occur once they were gone. The tickets were removed and destroyed May 9th. Amazingly, the state revealed that they also destroyed moldy tickets that had been stored since 2011, damaged in Hurricane Irene.

Two lottery employees filed workers' comp claims for respiratory illness on April 10 from the exposure to the mold. The state seems to be taking a “Who, us?” defense, claiming they suddenly had no knowledge of any health issues created with their employees. Spokesman Quinn said, “They did not share any information about their health issues with lottery managers prior to filing their complaints. Instead they retained an outside attorney to file the complaints with the New Jersey Department of Labor.”

Normally I am immediately suspect when an attorney is hired before an official claim even exists; however, in this case I get it. It sounds like warnings and complaints had been falling on some pretty incompetent ears. Test of the moldy tickets found high levels of stachybotrys and aspergillus/penicillium. The state has had pay to professionally clean the building after the tickets were destroyed, and further tests indicate more cleaning will be necessary to make the building safe again.

When explaining why it took so long to act between Superstorm Sandy to the May 9 removal date, Quinn explained that “auditing work requires advance planning and preparation”. He forgot “competence and common sense”, two attributes that appear to be in short supply in this case. It appears these are lottery tickets that should have been scratched off much sooner than they were.

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