In a recent Memphis, Tennessee news story, a television reporter described the city’s old morgue as a veritable “death trap”, but not for the reasons you might think. The reporter’s declaration had absolutely nothing to do with the tens of thousands of bodies that had been stored there through the decades but with the fact that, during recent construction on the building, asbestos literally “oozed out of the walls, floors, and ceiling.”
According to a News 3 Memphis report, employees who work for Shelby County, Tennessee voiced their concerns about dangerous asbestos-laden working conditions at the morgue to Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell via a letter from an attorney they hired to make their case.
The letter stated:
“Our clients are concerned not only for their physical and emotional well-being, but also for their families who are exposed when they return home carrying asbestos in their clothing. If you’re working on any building, should you be told that there’s the possibility of asbestos in it? There should be a documented survey in place to let you know what materials are asbestos-containing and also where the materials are located inside the building,”
The attorney also complained that the county “compelled” the employees to work in asbestos-laden conditions and offered them no choice in the matter. Workers claim that the Shelby County Support Services Division knew that the old morgue – and several other buildings throughout the county – contained old, friable asbestos materials yet insisted upon the work.
The mayor responded with a statement noting that there is hidden asbestos inside the building but that those working inside were never in any danger of exposure.
“If you find asbestos in the building then there are certain protocols that you follow to assure that only people who are removing the asbestos are trained to remove the asbestos are in the building until the building is cleaned. So that was the procedure we followed,” the mayor told Channel 3 News.
The employees say they don’t want to sue the county. They just want to make sure these protocols are indeed in place and are followed whenever a similar situation arises.
Still, the mayor’s response is not unusual. Throughout much of the 20th century, employers refused to acknowledge that asbestos was sickening their workers. Even when company doctors were warning them of the dangers of asbestos – usually via private in-office memos – executives at countless companies/corporations continued their use of asbestos, opting for this material rather than something more expensive.
The result was generations of individuals burdened with asbestos-related diseases, the worst of which was mesothelioma, a cancer that can take decades to develop but kills quickly.
A lack of regard for an employee’s health is never okay. Thankfully, many victims of asbestos exposure have been able to garner compensation from those responsible for this negligent behavior, either through lawsuits or payments from established asbestos trusts, set up by large corporations, post-bankruptcy, to provide funds for victims.