Worker Complaint Prompts Asbestos Probe

A worker removing old tiles and clearing the former Universal Hotel Liquidators site in New Haven, Conn. reported the building’s owner to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) this week after becoming suspicious about the presence of asbestos inside the building.

According to an article in the New Haven Register, Ernie Jones says he left the work site each day with a “hard cough” and had a feeling that something just wasn’t right. After reporting his concerns to OSHA, federal, state, and city workers showed up at the site on Wednesday, probing allegations that asbestos had been removed without masks or ventilation being used; that piles of asbestos-coated debris had been left unsecured outside; and illegal immigrants were sleeping on cots inside the building.

On Wednesday, City Building Official Andrew Rizzo issued two cease-and desist notifications to Brooklyn, N.Y.-based property owner State Assets LLC, the owners of the building, stopping any further work at the property and halting use of the second floor as an illegal boarding house.

Rizzo said he asked workers about the possibility that asbestos tiles were removed from the site before the inspections so as to avoid prosecution. Regardless of whether or not that occurred, city Director of Environmental Health Paul Kowalski said asbestos was indeed found at the site.

Project manager Aryk Benmaim said the site was previously tested for asbestos by a private company and the results came back negative. After worker complaints, the city retested and got positive results.

“It was zero. (The city) insists on taking samples, and it came out positive. I don’t know how it could be,” Ben-maim said.

Anonymous workers told OSHA representatives that illegal workers are brought in each day from New York. They bag the asbestos every night, readying it for removal. During the day, Jones and his fellow workers tear up the tiles using an ice chisel.

“I’ve built half of downtown,” Jones said. “I always had masks. This is the only building I’ve had where the boss gave me no masks and no protection.”

OSHA continues to investigate the situation.

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