Asbestos in Disrepair, Employees Not Protected from Exposure to Asbestos
WASHINGTON, DC - April 28, 2006 - Crumbling asbestos lines the utility pipes in tunnels running beneath federal office buildings within our nation's Capitol area, creating a health hazard for tunnel workers (The Hill, April 25, 2006). In February, inspectors found material consisting of 10% asbestos on conveyor belts. They also found that asbestos had leaked out from a tunnel entrance into the Government Printing Office building. The information about the leak was not made public until this month.
The office of the Architect of the Capitol maintains the tunnels and federal office buildings in the Capitol complex. A complaint was filed against the agency in February for failing to correct dangerous conditions in the tunnels including asbestos dust, unstable walls and inadequate communication systems. The complaint came six years after a citation was issued concerning these problems in the 100-year-old tunnels.
Until March of this year, the tunnel workers had not been provided with any respiratory protection, according to news reports. The workers said that the asbestos in the tunnels was so thick that it could be scooped up in handfuls. They sent a letter to several Congressmen describing the desperate situation (The Hill, March 30, 2006).
"It is a scandal and outrage that employees in our own buildings have apparently been exposed to this toxic material [asbestos]," Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said after receiving the letter (The Hill, March 30, 2006). "I intend to find out exactly what the scope of the problem is and what resources are needed to protect workers and ensure no harm comes to them as a result of exposure."
Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) agreed. "I am writing to express my strongest concern, indeed outrage, regarding your failure to ameliorate hazardous conditions that exist in the tunnels beneath the Capitol," she wrote in a letter to Alan Hantman, head of the Architect of the Capitol office (Press Release, March 29, 2006). "These conditions endanger the health of the tunnel workers and their families. Moreover, if it is true that U.S. Capitol Police are forbidden from patrolling the tunnels because of the hazardous conditions, then your failure to address these conditions also has created a potentially serious security loophole that could endanger all of us who work in the Capitol and surrounding buildings." She demanded that Mr. Hantman correct the problems listed in the 2000 citation, obtain a safety assessment, develop a plan for a safe working environment and address the security concerns in the tunnels.
Asbestos is Still With Us
The asbestos-laden tunnels in the Capitol complex provide a sad reminder that asbestos remains in our buildings, homes and other structures. Asbestos was used in many building materials, including dry wall products, joint compounds, floor tiles, ceiling tiles, plaster, insulation, pipe wrap, roofing shingles and roofing felts. The substance can become airborne during repair work, remodeling, or demolition. Asbestos dust may also be released when asbestos-containing materials become frayed or worn.
Asbestos exposure can cause diseases such as asbestosis, asbestos lung cancer and mesothelioma, which take decades to develop. Mesothelioma is an aggressive, fatal cancer. The most common form of the disease, pleural mesothelioma, first attacks the membranes lining the lungs. A rarer form, peritoneal mesothelioma, involves the membranes lining the stomach.
If you have been diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease such as asbestosis or mesothelioma, please feel free to contact us to discuss your health and your legal rights. We will review your case free of charge and inform you of your legal choices.