In order to facilitate sprinkler installation in the Senate subway tunnels underneath the U.S. Capitol building, contractors recently had to remove asbestos. The problem, says the union that represents the Capitol police officers, was that no one told the officers stationed there that day that asbestos removal was taking place.
According to an article in The Hill, the asbestos abatement occurred on weekends between February and April. The office of the Architect of the Capitol (AoC) claims that notices were sent to all senators’ and committee offices, support offices, the Capitol Police and other building occupants. The notices stated that all contractors were licensed abatement professionals and that work would be supervised by the EPA. In addition, notices explained that the areas in question would be sealed off and that constant air monitoring would be taking place.
However, a statement from the Capitol Police union claims that the officers were not notified of the asbestos hazards and that any requests to reassign officers posted in the area of the abatement were ignored. The officers were told that the removal work was safe and that warning signage would be posted where dangers existed. But, says the complaint, officers continued to be assigned to areas within close proximity of the construction work without being given proper protective gear to keep them from inhaling dangerous asbestos dust, which can cause diseases like pleural mesothelioma and asbestosis.
Capitol Police spokeswoman Lt. Kimberly Schneider says the department didn’t do anything wrong. “The USCP is unaware of any requirement for an employee who does not work in or who works near a contained area to have protective gear,” she wrote. “Officers were warned not to enter the contained area, and the Capitol Police requested and were provided assurances from the AoC that those conducting the asbestos removal complied with the highest health and safety standards.”
But a witness maintains that there were no signs, just yellow caution tape that restricted access to the area. The witness also observed AoC employees carrying “buckets of water into the men’s bathroom from the site area, which was also of concern since that may have been used in their decontamination when leaving the site.”
Asbestos exposure problems are not knew to the U.S. Capitol. About six years ago, workers from the Capitol’s power plant crew alleged exposure caused by work on the infrastructure. At that time, the employees said the area was so thick with asbestos that they could pick it up and put it in their pocket.