While renovating a building at the Canandaigua VA Hospital, workers were exposed to dangerous asbestos levels, according to union representatives for the men, who had previously appealed to managers to allow them to cease working in those hazardous conditions.
An article in the Daily Messenger states that the workers involved were renovating Building 36 at the Upstate New York hospital complex, improving it for use by the Veterans Crisis Line. However, before the work even began, union officials with SEIU 200 United say the workers raised concern about exposure to asbestos among both veterans and employees at the hospital.
According to the union, “front-line workers tried to make facilities management reconsider how the project was being handled but felt they were dismissed,” notes the article. It wasn’t until they filed a complaint with OSHA that attention was turned towards the hazardous conditions. A stop-work order was given, though it may have been too late for the police officers, firefighters, engineers, and construction workers that were involved in the project.
“We don’t know exactly who all was exposed, but between 34 and 38 individuals came forward,” said David Palmer, business representative for the union, SEIU 200 United.
OSHA pointed to four “serious” asbestos-related violations. These included improper removal procedures, the failure to keep asbestos contained to the area where the work was being conducted, and the failure to appoint qualified and competent staff to oversee the project.
The scenario prompted several of the VA employees to file claims with Workmen’s Comp and VA Employer Health as potential asbestos exposure victims. Unfortunately, however, because most asbestos diseases take many years to develop, those exposed will not know what kind of effect the exposure had on them – if any – for a long time.
The VA of Canandaigua responded with the following:
“The medical center maintains the safety of its staff as top priority. 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. An abatement contractor and third party abatement monitoring firm has been retained to perform and oversee the abatement of the entire area where the asbestos was encountered. The medical center will continue to work with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to ensure the safety of all patients and staff.”
Wayne Thompson, chairman of the Finger Lakes Veterans Advocacy Council, expressed his concern after hearing about the incident, referring to it as one that could have “potential serious ramifications” for those who were involved.
Veterans and military civilian employees aren’t strangers to the world of asbestos exposure. Veterans, especially those who served in the U.S. Navy, have the highest rate of mesothelioma on record. Many were exposed while building or serving onboard Navy ships, but asbestos could also be found at military bases, in other military vehicles, and even in homes built for military personnel.