Inmate Work Crew Claims Asbestos Exposure

A crew of six prison inmates and two corrections officers working at the Staten Island (NY) Borough Hall were exposed to dangerous asbestos while removing a floor, the New York Times reported in a recent article.

The crew, made up of inmates from the Arthur Kill Correctional Facility on Staten Island and two supervising officers, worked at the hall last July, “yanking up carpet and floor tile with hands and ice scrapers and hauling at least a dozen plastic garbage bags of debris to the curb,” according to the article. At one point, several hours into the job, the borough’s environmental engineer told them to stop because the tiles contained a large amount of asbestos.

According to court papers filed on Monday, a tile from the floor was found to contain extremely high and dangerous levels of asbestos “” “more than four times the threshold that triggers the city’s requirements that the material be removed only by licensed asbestos engineers using high-tech equipment and rigorous disposal protocols.”

The corrections officers have stated that they believe they’ve been exposed to the asbestos for nearly a year because they began work at the Borough Hall last October and were inside when contractors were tearing up other parts of the floor. None of the workers were offered protective gear, such as a dust mask.

The officers have now decided to hire an attorney and take the city to court, charging that the borough showed no regard for their health. The officers’ attorney says the inmates are considering joining the suit as well.

One of the officers on the Borough Hall job, Paul A. Zanelli, told attorney Bernadette Panzella that he felt betrayed. “I was just shocked that they would allow us to be exposed to that.”

“We were in there hands-on for quite a while,” Mr. Zanelli said. “It was very dusty. The inmates were choking. We had to turn on the A.C.”

The carpet was glued to the black-tile floor, so the tile came up, too, Mr. Zanelli said.

According to the NY Times article, city and state laws mandate that any material with more than 1 percent asbestos on a building project can be removed only by licensed asbestos engineers using proper abatement methods.
“It doesn’t matter whether it’s prisoners, correction officers or other workers performing the work,” said David M. Newman, an industrial hygienist with the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health.

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