Inhaled Asbestos

City Workers Followed Orders, Inhaled Asbestos

About twenty city employees in Austin, Texas say they were only following orders when, this past July, they entered a utility building, pulled down the ceiling, removed the furniture, and swept up the debris left behind. What they didn’t realize is that those orders put them in harm’s way as the building was already contaminated with asbestos.

City Workers Followed Orders, Inhaled AsbestosThe workers told a KXAN-TV reporter that they were not provided with the proper equipment to complete the job and are now fearful of the health ramifications of their exposure to the deadly toxin.

“I wore my dust mask for the majority of the day, but I did take it off from time to time during breaks. I guess that doesn’t really matter since they aren’t approved for asbestos,” one employee wrote on a form that was submitted to the city. “By the end of the day, I was drenched in sweat. My jeans and shirt were both dripping and completely covered in dust, dirt and asbestos, apparently.”

But, according to a KXAN investigation, these 20 workers aren’t the only city employees that have come face-to-face with asbestos while on the job in Texas’ capital city. The investigative team worked for six months to uncover two-year’s worth of incidents that resulted in similar exposure for some 200 Austin city workers in four different departments.

“Several city employees, who spoke with KXAN on a condition of anonymity because they fear retaliation, said individual departments cut corners, bypassed protocols and ignored warnings that could have prevented the asbestos disturbances and possible exposures,” said a reporter for the station.

City spokesperson David Green referred to these situations as “abnormal” but stopped short of taking the blame for the infractions that occurred.

After Green’s statement, the Office of the City Manager refused any further interviews with KXAN or any other news outlet and said it would be conducting its own “executive review” to look into the contamination scenarios. They promised to issue a statement by the end of the year.

But regardless of what the City Manager learns from the investigation, those 200 employees now face an uncertain future due to asbestos exposure. Once inhaled, asbestos dust can settle in the area around the lungs and cause the formation of tumors. Sadly, however, victims of asbestos exposure usually don’t know they’ve been affected by the dust until decades after they inhale the fibers.

It is likely the city will offer the employees annual medical testing, which is still too little, too late.