A former Deutsche Bank building asbestos worker told the New York Daily News that she quit her job at the site near the former World Trade Center because her boss berated her for wearing an asbestos mask to protect herself.
Helen Rocos claims that she and other employees who were chosen to search for bone fragments amid rubble on the top of the building were assured that the roof had already been cleaned of asbestos. So, she says, they sifted through the rubble in ordinary clothes without benefit of respirators or other standard-issue asbestos gear.
“They told us they got rid of the asbestos, but as I’m digging, I’m thinking, ‘How did they magically get rid of the asbestos, but still leave all this healthy dirt behind?’” said Rocos, 57, a tough-talking certified asbestos handler with haz-mat training.
Rocos claims that after working at the site for several hours during the first morning of the job, she came back after lunch with an asbestos mask on her face. She describes her boss as furious.
“He yelled, ‘Helen! Take that mask off your face! You are spooking everybody, spooking the people from the medical examiner’s office!’” Rocos recalled.
“I said, ‘No!’ I said I doubted they could clean the asbestos on the roof and leave all this other dirt untouched. You had people picking through the dirt for bones, then getting up and eating a Dunkin’ Donut, licking their fingers,” she said. “It was insane.”
Her supervisor at Bovis Lend Lease then referred to her as a loudmouth and troublemaker in front of her fellow employees and suggested she switch to a cloth mask rather than a respirator.
Rocos claims other working conditions were substandard as well, including the lack of running water, which made it impossible to wash up before lunch, and the lack of working toilets. She says the mask incident was the last straw, so she quit.
Shortly after Rocos quit, the Environmental Protection Agency suspended the search for bone fragments because the roof was “not properly cleaned” and asbestos particles were discovered in the dust, officials said.