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McNeil Island Prison Fined $28,400 for Improper Asbestos Removal

The McNeil Island prison in Washington state was fined $28,400 in July 2008 for two “willful” and seven “serious” violations related to three renovation projects in November and December 2007. The projects involved the removal of vinyl tile glued down with adhesive that contained asbestos. Eight prisoners, eight Department of Corrections employees and at least two flooring contractor crew members were exposed to asbestos-contaminated dust during the removal process.

Despite the fact that two of the supervisors involved in the projects had been previously certified for asbestos removal, fundamental precautions such as using a vacuum with a HEPA filter and water for dust suppression were not taken. Construction Maintenance Supervisor Gar Rodside had been first certified in 2000 and taken seven refresher courses, but he let his certification lapse. Plant Manager Tom Hili was initially certified in 2004 and had taken three refresher courses.

“All asbestos certification classes, for workers and supervisors, emphasize the use of water as a universal control of asbestos fibers,” said a state Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) report released in September 2008. “A certified asbestos supervisor should know the proper method of removing class 2 asbestos material.”

The L&I issued the fine for willful violations of not using wetting agents to control asbestos dust, sweeping up tile and sealant while dry, and not using a vacuum with a HEPA filter. The serious violations included lack of direct oversight by a certified supervisor, using uncertified prisoners as removal laborers, failing to provide written notice of the presence of asbestos, failure to use respirators, failing to make an exposure assessment before removal, mechanically removing tile outside a “negative pressure” environment, not removing the tile intact, and not using “critical barriers” to prevent the spread of dust.

Prison officials claimed they did not know the removal was done improperly. They appealed the L&I findings, requesting a reduction in the severity of the most serious violations and asking that some of the fine money be diverted to asbestos training for maintenance workers and supervisors. They did not dispute the underlying facts of the case, but Rodside claimed “there was little dust during the removal of the tile.”

Prisoners who worked on the projects said they were ignored when they raised safety concerns, and that there was a large amount of dust. The superintendent’s administrative assistant confirmed there was a “large amount of dust when the floor tile was removed outside her office.”

L&I stated there was minimal danger in this case because the tile adhesive had a low percentage of asbestos and the exposures were for only a few hours on each project. However, no safe minimum exposure time to asbestos has been established, and breathing asbestos dust has been linked to an increased risk of lung cancer and other respiratory illnesses.


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