New York VA Center Renovations Halted After Workers Were Exposed to Asbestos

Posted on October 11, 2016

A Veteran’s Administration Crisis Line center in Canandaigua, NY was undergoing renovations earlier this year when the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) pulled the plug on the project after asbestos was discovered.

According to an Oct. 3 report in the Daily Messenger, complaints by workers about the presence of asbestos in the building went unheeded before and during renovations. However, OSHA listened when over 30 union workers filed a complaint in April claiming they were exposed to the deadly toxin while the building was being upgraded for more space for the crisis line.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports asbestos is a carcinogen known to cause pleural mesothelioma, a cancer of the lining of the lungs, asbestosis and other pulmonary diseases. Nearly 3,000 cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed in the United States each year.

Ironically though, workers most likely to contract mesothelioma are military veterans or those who had direct contact with asbestos in an industrial setting or a factory, such as pipefitters, electricians, plumbers, foundry workers, machinists and mechanics.

Statistics show that about 30 percent of all mesothelioma victims served in the military. Mesothelioma victims typically show disease symptoms years or even decades after exposure to asbestos.

“We don’t know exactly who all was exposed, but between 34 and 38 individuals came forward,” said David Palmer, business representative for SEIU 200 United, according to the Daily Messenger. “Due to the nature of asbestos related illnesses often lacking acute symptoms despite having serious long-term health risks, workers who are active in their Union are concerned people who may have been exposed to the asbestos in Building 36 may not come forward due to fear of retaliation.”

OSHA, in collaboration with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the VA Inspector General’s office, found four “serious violations” relating to asbestos at the site. The inspectors reported that proper abatement procedures were not followed, VA management was not using properly trained staff to oversee the project, and the crew failed to take appropriate steps to contain the asbestos.

A VA representative reports “an abatement contractor and third party abatement monitoring firm” will complete the project. In addition, OSHA and the EPA will continue to monitor the project.

“The medical center maintains the safety of its staff as top priority,” said a VA representative in a statement. “All the employees that may have been in contact with asbestos have been encouraged to report to employee health to be evaluated for potential exposure. “