Workers in Cape Cod Town May Have Been Negligently Exposed to Asbestos

The Massachusetts State Attorney General has been asked to intervene on behalf of workers who believe they were negligently exposed to asbestos materials while working at a school administration building and other offices in the town of Barnstable on Cape Cod.

An article in the Cape Cod Times reports that union leaders in Barnstable, Massachusetts have requested that Attorney General Martha Coakley investigate whether or not officials in that small town allowed workers to continue with renovations despite that fact that they knew there was a good chance that asbestos was present in the areas in which they were working.

"Whether the actions of the town management were intentional or not remains to be seen," officials with the union representing the workers wrote in a letter sent to Coakley earlier this month. "However, at the very least, it appears that the actions of the town may well have constituted gross negligence."

The work in question occurred last October, reports documents drafted by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, AFL-CIO. At that time, workers employed by the town's Structures and Grounds Division discovered what they believed to be material containing asbestos at their jobsite. Fearing for their health, they asked supervisors to have it tested, reported Mark Tubbs, president of the union's Local 3003. Tubbs was one of the workers at the site, the article reports.

General foreman, Bryan Lauzon, reportedly told the workers that they had already tested for asbestos and that none was present. The workers asked for test results but it took more than 3 weeks for town officials to respond. When the results were finally provided to union officials, they showed that there was indeed asbestos present and that one sample tested positive for 33 percent chrysotile, a common ingredient in many construction products of the past.

Unfortunately, said Tubbs, workers used a ShopVac-type vacuum to clean up the area, blowing asbestos fibers around the room. Furthermore, they were given no protection and often ate lunch while working in the area. In addition, laws note that workers are to be trained in advance of working in an area with asbestos present. That did not occur, union officials said.

However, town officials are not convinced that anyone was exposed to asbestos. "When the facts come out, I think it will show that we did what was appropriate," Town Manager Thomas Lynch said. "We don't want to put anyone at risk."
“If an employee becomes ill later and it can be traced back to work done for the town, the town's workers' compensation insurance will cover it,” said William Kole, HR director for the town of Barnstable, inferring that he was aware that asbestos can cause respiratory problems and the development of diseases such as mesoth elioma.

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