Volunteers Exposed to Asbestos During House Renovation
When a dozen workers from Georgia Power and Light volunteered their time last Martin Luther King Day to help renovate a dilapidated house and turn it into transitional housing for a needy family, the group had no idea they were doing something that could change their lives…and not in a positive way.
Some 8 months later, those volunteers – along with several paid employees of the East Georgia Housing Authority – learned that they were exposed to toxic asbestos while working inside the house at 865 Clements Street.
Now, there’s not much they can do except wait for years – even decades – to see if the exposure will have an effect on their health.
The oversight was the fault of Kelly Evans, executive housing director of the East Georgia Housing Authority. She claims she never received a letter from the seller when she purchased the house, proclaiming that an inspection revealed asbestos in the floor and ceiling.
A statement he sent to Evans had noted that the materials needed to be removed by an asbestos abatement professional.
“I purchased the property. I don’t remember seeing the environmental review,” Evans said, later claiming that her son was very ill at the time the letter may have arrived and she might have missed it.
However, there is evidence to the contrary. Statements made by Evans at a later date reveal that she may very well have known about the asbestos but used the volunteers to cut corners and save money on a professional abatement.
A local television news station uncovered a document initialed by Evans that said “I have no idea why they took down the walls. I told Bobby to leave the floor and ceiling because of asbestos.”
When asked by a reporter why she would mention asbestos in the statement if she supposedly didn’t know about it, she once again contradicted herself.
But the follow-up letter she received from an inspector after the volunteers had spent the day in the home was very clear. It said, “Notify all parties that worked in the structure…Advise them they may have been exposed to asbestos-containing dust.”
Georgia Power’s volunteer coordinator was notified and made the following statement:
The health and safety of our employees is our top priority every day, both on and off the job. At the time the volunteer work was conducted, we were not aware of any concerns regarding the site in question.
Last week (late August), we received confirmation from the East Georgia Housing Authority that there was asbestos present at the volunteer site – we have updated our employee volunteers and will continue to provide more information to them as available.
Evans, in the meantime, admitted her responsibility, though whether or not she covered up the fact that she knew about the asbestos is not yet clear.
“One, I understand I’m responsible. I’m the executive director and I don’t mind taking responsibility for it. What I didn’t try to do, was I didn’t try to hurt anybody,” Evans told Channel 12 news.