According to a recent public letter from the United States Office of Special Counsel to President Barack Obama, a whistleblower’s claims of asbestos safety violations at a Veteran’s Administration (VA) hospital have been substantiated.
The reason the letter was addressed to the president is because, as president, he is technically in charge of all executive agencies. According to the release, federal investigators responded to a whistleblower’s claim that, as long-time maintenance employees, he and his co-workers, which included pipefitters, HVAC workers, and plumbers, had to work every day in areas VA knew to contain asbestos. Whistleblower also said he and others were required to perform their work without the use of certified or approved asbestos protection equipment or respirators or ventilators. It also seemed to whistleblower that they were taking this toxic asbestos-laden material and throwing it in an ordinary dumpster.
He also reported to the oversight agency that he was in a room in the surgical ward and saw one mechanic cutting into the drywall where it was well-known there was asbestos, including the joint compound, which was being turned into a dusty mess. As our Boston asbestos exposure attorneys understand, drywall joint compound is likely to contain deadly asbestos fibers, and there is nothing more dangerous than using a power saw on the material. This type of saw moves at a high rate of speed and throws dust everywhere, including into the HVAC system, where the deadly fibers can travel freely around the building, exposing others who are nowhere near the asbestos source. Even with filters on the HVAC system, it is unlikely that microscopic asbestos fibers will become trapped due to their size.
On this incident, the man asked the mechanic why he was cutting a wall that was known to contain asbestos, and he responded he was just doing what his supervisor told him. In other words, people were so afraid of losing their jobs, they were willing to risk their health and safety and knowingly cut into asbestos without any safety equipment.
He also reported seeing contractors removing samples of asbestos on pipes to test for asbestos. While this at first sounds like a good thing, they were not wearing any protective equipment and were not taking any steps to minimize air contamination when taking or transporting the samples. It was pretty obvious to whistleblower that this was not a licensed or certified asbestos abatement company doing the inspection, and people were being put in harm’s way. The report also indicated four other employees were working in the general vicinity of the pump room where the samples were being haphazardly taken, and nobody warned the other workers to stay clear of the area.
There was also a finding that the whistleblower had a chest radiograph, which seemed to show the presence of asbestos, but they failed to correctly interpret the radiograph and did not remove the individual from jobs where asbestos was present. This is particularly troubling, as the man works at a hospital. The hospital has said it has followed the 15 recommendations of the federal agency and now considers the matter closed.
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Special Counsel Letter, September 10, 2015, Office of Special Counsel United States of America
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Can Family of Asbestos Workers Sue for Illness?, September 15, 2014, Boston Mesothelioma Lawyers Blog