Capitol Police knowingly exposed officers to asbestos, union alleges
The union representing the Capitol Police in Washington, D.C., says the department knew officers were at risk of asbestos exposure during an abatement project, but did nothing to warn them or provide protective gear.
The Hill, a daily newspaper that covers the U.S. Congress, reports that James Konczos, chairman of the Capitol Police Labor Committee, filed a complaint with the Congressional Office of Compliance in late February, accusing the department of failing to notify officers of the asbestos hazard and of ignoring officers’ requests for reassignment.
The officers were posted in the Senate subway tunnels during weekends from February through April, when asbestos-containing material was being removed in preparation for the installation of a new sprinkler system.
Capitol Police spokeswoman Lt. Kimberly Schneider told The Hill in an email that officers were warned not to enter the asbestos-removal area, and that the department received assurances from the Architect of the Capitol (AoC) that abatement contractors were in compliance with federal health and safety standards.
She added that the department was “unaware of any requirement for an employee who does not work in or who works near a contained area to have protective gear.”
A known carcinogen, asbestos causes mesothelioma, a deadly cancer of the lining of the lung, asbestosis and other respiratory illness. The Environmental Protection Agency says there is no safe level of exposure to asbestos.
AoC spokeswoman Eva Malecki told the newspaper that building occupants, including Senate employees and Capitol Police, were notified of the asbestos removal work. A sealed containment area protected people outside the work area, and those inside the work area wore protective coveralls, gloves, helmets, safety glasses and HEPA-filtered respirators.
According to the complaint, officers were told the removal work was safe and warning signs would be posted. But, according to a witness listed in the Labor Committee complaint, “there were no signs posted in the immediate areas [of asbestos removal], only yellow tape impeding access.”
“Several times, AoC workers carried 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,” the witness added.
According to The Hill, this not the first time asbestos removal on Capitol grounds has raised concerns. In 2006, six members of the Capitol Power Plant’s tunnel crew complained that the Architect of the Capitol failed to protect them from exposure to asbestos.
At the time, tunnel supervisor John Thayer said asbestos levels were so high inside the infrastructure that employees could “pick it up and put it in their pockets.”
A local environmental laboratory subsequently found asbestos levels above the personal-exposure limit set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.