Workers were worried at the VA hospital that the air conditioning system could be spreading asbestos contaminated dust among the staff and 37,000 veterans treated yearly in the facility.
Asbestos wrapped-pipes were located in the subbasements of the buildings and workers knew that some of that wrapping had begun to crumble and broken pieces of insulation were on the floor.
In the subbasement, the pipes are located close to many air ducts of the building’s air conditioning system. The ducts are old and may not be properly sealed, allowing potentially asbestos-contaminated dust to be sucked into the air supply of the building.
Workers filed complaint with OSHA in 2013, and the VA officials responded that there was no asbestos debris identified in the subbasement. They later “revised” their report, claiming asbestos had been found, but had been removed by the spring of 2013. OSHA then closed their investigation.
Yet photos from the spring of 2014 indicate there were still asbestos-wrapped pipes. A maintenance worker, fearful of retaliation, provided photos of wrapped pipes in the subbasement and crawlspaces where the pipe insulation is coming “unraveled and falling apart.” Some of the pipes have been taped with duct tape and others have insulation “dangling” over air handler access doors.
In addition, employees were never issued protective clothing when they worked in those spaces. They could have been dragging asbestos dust out into other locations in the building and to their home and families.
The VA has since closed the area and restricted access, while yet another contractor works to remove asbestos from this area.
Perhaps this time they really will properly abate all of the asbestos. Unfortunately, if asbestos dust was spread to veterans receiving treatment at the hospital, we will only know for certain when patients or staff begin developing mesothelioma, or other asbestos-related illnesses.
Situations like this will be a continuing and ongoing problem in California and throughout the U.S., as asbestos-laden materials age and fall apart. The cost of abatement will cause many to ignore the problem or tempt some to “fix” the issue on the cheap, which often leads to greater contamination.
WLOS.com, “Part 2: Asbestos at VA Medical Center,” September 18, 2014