Employees of Drug Treatment Facility Exposed to Asbestos
The Oregon Occupational Health and Safety Administration has determined that employees at OnTrack, a drug rehabilitation facility in Medford, were exposed to asbestos while rehabbing a nearby property…and it’s possible that superiors knew there was asbestos present but did nothing to prevent exposure.
According to an article in the Mail Tribune, OSHA inspected the building on various dates in May and determined that OnTrack “failed to follow proper procedures, provide protective equipment and communicate about the proper handling of asbestos with employees.”
As a result, OSHA distributed 10 citations, issued for scraping the acoustic ceiling without wetting it first, for workers not wearing protective gear, and for failure to properly dispose of the hazardous material, including not placing it in air-tight containers.
Eddie Wallace, the communications director at OnTrack, claims that the company followed all the rules when they sent their employees to work on the Hamilton Street building.
However, he claims, part of the ceiling was “mistakenly scraped” by employees who did not recognize that it was a so-called popcorn ceiling, which often contains asbestos.
“OnTrack immediately reported this episode to the DEQ (Oregon Department of Environmental Quality) and engaged in the cleaning and repair of the area according to strict DEQ guidelines,” he added.
However, when employee Andy Scott filed the complaint, he noted that supervisors were “dismissive” when he questioned them about the presence of asbestos in the ceiling.
“I knew there was a risk there,” said Scott, who added that he is seeking whistleblower protection from the Bureau of Labor and Industries, which will keep him from being dismissed or harassed by OnTrack. “They were minimizing that there are known carcinogens in there.”
He claims that when he entered the structure he saw two piles of material on the ground, and a section of the ceiling had already been scraped off.
At this point, Scott said, he expressed his hesitancy to enter the building because he surmised that the dust would likely contain asbestos.
After being dismissed on other occasions, Scott said he finally contacted OSHA.
Analysis of the debris did indeed prove Scott to be correct. Testing showed it contained about 10 percent chrysotile asbestos, a known carcinogen.
Alarmingly, there is another OnTrack family living inside that same building but in a different apartment. There was no word as to the possibilities that they were exposed as well, though it appeared that no precautions were taken nor were they warned that renovations that may have disturbed asbestos were taking place in the building where they live.