Employees of the Bergstrom International Airport in Austin, Texas told a reporter at a local news station that they were exposed to asbestos during 2016 office renovations and that the airport administration ignored their concerns about the potentially deadly building material, which is known to cause mesothelioma cancer.
According to a report by KXAN-TV, three aviation maintenance workers approached the station on a condition of anonymity, explaining that in both February and June of 2016 floor renovations in the airport’s maintenance complex building likely released asbestos fibers into the air.
Away from the passenger terminals, the maintenance building contains numerous offices and houses maintenance administrators as well as on-site plumbers, carpenters, cleaning staff, and police.
The three said that about 120 employees total may have likely been exposed to the toxin. They added that their concerns about the removal of asbestos-laden tiles and glue were not taken seriously and that they believe that recommended asbestos control procedures were not followed during the renovations, allowing fibers to circulate through the air.
“The people who run the airport put people in danger that they knew about, put them in hazardous areas and told them that they would be safe,” said one employee who was present for the February renovations. “I am concerned for everybody’s health who was in the building.”
The City of Austin says that not the case.
They released a statement saying that Austin is committed to the “health and safety of all employees,” and that it is “continuing to investigate the circumstances surrounding this incident.”
“The City of Austin and the Department of Aviation would never intentionally put its employees at risk,” according to the prepared statement, which went out to media outlets on June 16. “The City is committed to improving internal processes, training and communication to ensure our high standards are met for a safe working environment for all staff.”
One employee told KXAN that last February he viewed the removal of carpet and tile, revealing black mastic underneath, which may have contained asbestos due to its age.
He told workers that their activity should be halted immediately and that the area should be blocked off until further investigation could be completed. He then took his concerns to airport management but never received a reply.
The work continued and then re-started again in June.
The city’s Department of Aviation even told KXAN that no employees complained about the work and the risk of asbestos exposure. Later, they changed their mind and told the TV station that two employees had indeed voiced their concerns.
Nonetheless, the department said they were relying on a 2004 building survey, which did not indicate the presence of asbestos.
Finally, on Sept. 29, 2016, that the Department of Aviation sent a notice to the city’s Building Services Department notifying it of an “accidental disturbance” of asbestos-containing material and calling for “expedited decontamination.” It was a little late for those who may have been exposed.
But employees knew long before then that there was a problem.
“I’ve seen this stuff before. It looks like black tar, which had dried long ago and was very brittle, and when they scraped the floor and break this stuff up, part of it becomes dust and gets into the air,” an employee said. “When it gets into the air, it affects everybody in the building, not just those guys working on it.”
Eight city employees working directly on the carpet renovations have been provided medical surveillance for life, report city officials. KXAN says it has not found any instances of employees with medical issues directly related to the 2016 asbestos exposure, but in the case of asbestos-related diseases, which can take decades to develop, it is likely too soon.