Niagara County under fire for reportedly assigning welfare workers to remove asbestos from building

17 Jun 2015 by under News

200px asbestos warning 150x150 Niagara County under fire for reportedly assigning welfare workers to remove asbestos from building, N.Y., officials are under fire this week for reportedly allowing welfare workers to remove debris from a government building without protective equipment. The welfare workers are required to work in order to receive their benefits. President of the county’s blue-collar union, William C. Rutland, who represents the workers, said the county was taking advantage of them. They simply reported and did as they were instructed without being advised of the potential danger, he alleges.

Workers were instructed to remove debris from the basement of the Shaw Building on the Mount View campus on May 22. The 84-year-old building serves as the headquarters for the Niagara County Health and Mental Health Departments.

Exposure to asbestos – even in small amounts – may lead to the development of asbestos-related diseases including asbestosis, a severe scarring of the lungs, and mesothelioma, a deadly cancer. When asbestos is disturbed, as in demolition, excavation or clean-up projects, the microscopic asbestos fibers may be ingested or inhaled, posing a health hazard. Experts say there is no safe level of exposure to asbestos.

Among the materials workers removed from the basement was asbestos pipe insulation, which they carried out of the building and placed in a dumpster. Due to the hazardous nature of asbestos, its removal should be handled by a licensed asbestos abatement contractor, and it must be disposed of in a properly licensed facility. This is to ensure both worker and public safety.

Mr. Rutland says he inspected the contents of the dumpster on May 29, after he learned about the incident. He said the dumpster was covered only by a loose tarp, and easily identified the presence of asbestos pipe wrap. He said workers carried the loose material through the building, including past the time clock, where employees in the building could have been exposed to it.

The matter is currently being investigated by the departments of Labor and Environmental Conservation. The Labor Department’s Public Employee Safety and Health Bureau and its Asbestos Control Bureau tested the material in the dumpster and confirmed the presence of asbestos. The county has been informed that a licensed asbestos contractor must be hired to remove the dumpster and debris.

Work has been stopped at the Shaw Building until the investigation is complete.

Source: The Buffalo News

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