In yet another story involving unsuspecting workers and asbestos exposure, highway employees in the Upstate New York town of Alexandria encountered dangerous working conditions when they were recently made to work in an asbestos-filled structure without benefit of the proper equipment that would have protected them from inhaling dangerous dust.
According to an article in the Watertown Daily Times, a recently-released state report has determined that Alexandria’s Highway Department committed several “serious” infractions when they allowed employees to work in and around the aforementioned building.
The issues arose in December 2015 when employees of the Highway Department worked to clear the old Chamber of Commerce Building in the city’s downtown area. Workers were suspicious about the large amounts of white dust that appeared as they did their job, and it was later confirmed that there were indeed large amounts of both asbestos and lead in the building.
As such, the department has been cited for not providing proper respirators for those working inside the toxic area and for not providing screens or protective clothing for those doing welding work at the site.
Alexandria Supervisor Dale D. Hunneyman noted that the complaints were the first for the town’s Highway Department in the 23 years he’s worked there, and added that the town was taking the state’s mandates seriously.
However, he seemed suspicious of the complaints, describing some of them as “just an opportunity for employees to cost us a lot of money,” adding that he believed several employees were unhappy with Highway
Superintendent Jerry Durand and that perhaps this was retaliation.
Hunneyman added that the department will now be subcontracting a lot of the work in question, including sandblasting, welding, and painting.
“Our main concern is any problems that are there are rectified, and that there’s a safer work environment,” stated Robert Gordon, business manager of the Teamsters Local 687, Potsdam, which represents the town highway workers. “They have mandates, they have to come into compliance as far as work conditions.”
Employees of the Alexandria Highway Department now live with the fear that their asbestos exposure will later result in the development of an asbestos-related disease, including mesothelioma cancer. Experts have agreed that even a small amount of exposure can result in the disease, which can take up to several decades to appear.
At this point, any precautions taken by the department are too little, too late for those already exposed.
Though the use of asbestos was greatly curtailed by 1980, employees who work with old structures often face exposure. As such, precautions should always be taken during demolition or renovation and refurbishing projects.