Whistleblower Says Lots of Asbestos at Youth Facility
An employee who used to work at the MacLaren Youth Correctional Institution in Woodburn, Oregon has filed a whistleblower suit against the state, proclaiming that both staff and students were knowingly exposed to asbestos.
The suit seeks $935,000 in damages.
John Neves of Silverton, Oregon claims that he spent about a year-and-a-half on the job there, supervising a group of six young offenders, helping them renovate and remodel cottages and other buildings on the sprawling premises of MacLaren.
It was all part of a $52-million-dollar upgrade at the aging facility, approved by the state in 2015.
According to a recounting of the specifics of the lawsuit in an article in the Statesman Journal, on Feb. 22, 2017, as Neves was working on the final cottage, his supervisor, Steve Babcock, ordered him to quickly replace panels he had pulled off the walls of the living area.
“Mr. Babcock explained that a tour of public officials was about to come through Kincaid Cottage and MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility did not want them to know about the asbestos in the walls,” the lawsuit reads.
“Plaintiff was shocked. He had never been told that MYCF knew there was asbestos in the walls of the living units he remodeled,” the suit continues. “Mr. Babcock said there was asbestos ‘all over the place.’”
Without any further discussion about what transpired, Neves – along with another employee – was put on administrative leave the next day.
Both were accused of helping or knowing about youth creating hiding spots for contraband in the units that were being remodeled.
Neves waited about a month and then filed a complaint with Oregon OSHA. He was then fired about four months later, just four days before OSHA cited Oregon Youth Authority (OYA) for two serious violations of the Oregon Safe Employment laws, the lawsuit points out.
The Youth Authority was also fined $500.
A subsequent investigation by OSHA proved that Oregon Youth Authority did not notify employees working on the renovation that they could possibly encounter asbestos while on the job.
The agency also failed to provide any sort of asbestos-related training as to how to handle the material should one come in contact with it or, simply, how to recognize it.
So far, OYA has not responded to the lawsuit or to media requests for a statement about their involvement.