The city of East Lansing, Michigan has been facing an asbestos-related lawsuit since January 2015, forged by local waste water treatment facility workers who were exposed to the toxin, but local government officials believe the city should be exempt from asbestos suit litigation and is asking the judge to dismiss it, reports an article in the Lansing State Journal.
East Lansing is requesting that a court of appeals throw out the case, which was filed on behalf of employees who allege that the city knowingly exposed them to both asbestos and mercury while they worked at the waste water treatment plant.
The suit cites a 2007 study, which was commissioned by the city, in which asbestos was identified at the plant. The study recommended that all employees be notified of the presence of the toxin.
Nine employees were never notified of the results of the study and several were even told to “keep quiet” when they inquired as to the problem.
Shortly after the suit was filed, and again in 2016, the city asked Circuit Judge Clinton Canady III to dismiss the suit, citing governmental immunity.
Specifically, the city claimed that the courts had no say in the matter because the claim is covered by the Michigan Workers’ Disability Compensation Act and because there were no physical injuries. The request was denied both times.
“We think that the state law should be followed and the case should be dismissed,” said Thomas Fleury, the lawyer representing the city.
Neal Wilensky, the attorney for the plaintiffs, argued that the case was viable and requested that it proceed.
“We believe we have a good case and we believe the trial judge decided the matter correctly,” Wilensky said. “It is clear that this plant was rife with asbestos, the brass knew it, willfully disregarded worker safety, and deliberately exposed employees for seven years.”
Wilensky’s statement stems from the fact that asbestos abatement at the facility didn’t begin until 2014, seven years after the completion of the study. Also of note is that the summary of the study wasn’t released to employees until around the same time, years after the city was notified of the problem.
Similarly, an accidental mercury spill occurred at the plant in November 2013. The spill was neither cleaned-up or properly reported, the plaintiffs allege. This spill is yet another aspect of the current lawsuit.
In recent years, the city of East Lansing has been cited twice for violations by Michigan OSHA. That includes one time for safety violations related to both the presence of asbestos and the mercury spill, and another time for failure to correct previous violations.
In the meantime, those who suffered exposure will need to wait – potentially for decades – to determine whether or not the asbestos has affected their health.
It usually takes up to 50 years for serious asbestos diseases, such as mesothelioma, to develop, though employees will likely submit to periodic testing or imaging in order to regularly assess the condition of their lungs.