A whistleblower in San Antonio, Texas prompted federal investigators to research unsafe asbestos handling at the Audie L. Murphy Memorial Veterans Hospital.
San Antonio Express reports that federal investigators have now confirmed that the whistleblower’s complaints were valid, after they found maintenance workers at the hospital were unprotected from asbestos exposure. The man who informed the authorities is a long-time maintenance worker at the hospital who revealed he, along with other workers, was made to remove asbestos-containing materials in small areas. When the materials were removed, the asbestos became airborne.
According to The Office of Special Counsel (OSC), asbestos was confirmed to be present at hospital, although the counsel couldn’t confirm yet whether management told the employees to work without the proper protective gear. In a response to the accusations, The Veterans Administration didn’t address the issue concerning protective gear and it also didn’t state how many people were exposed to asbestos. However, the VA did indicate that the problem was corrected immediately and that no employees, nor anyone else, was harmed.
“An extensive review was conducted, and no VA employees, patients or visitors have been found to have been harmed.”
Yet, since asbestos-related illnesses, such as mesothelioma and asbestos-related cancer can take up to 50 years to surface, there is no way to be 100% that anyone wasn’t harmed.
The hospital is now under investigation after violating federal laws. According to a letter that the OSC sent to President Obama,
“The medical center failed to take appropriate precautions to protect employees performing maintenance from exposure to unsafe concentrations of asbestos, failed to inform employees of the location and quantity of asbestos-containing materials in the area, and failed to provide a medical surveillance program for all employees exposed to asbestos at a level greater than the permissible exposure limit.”
The OSC still needs to prove that the hospital managers knowingly placed employees in danger of asbestos exposure. Asbestos, a naturally-occurring mineral once used in a variety of products and materials, can cause life-threatening diseases if its fibers are inhaled or ingested.
After visiting the hospital, the VA’s medical inspector’s office recommended at least 15 different changes, including assigning maintenance workers to job tasks that doesn’t involve any contact with asbestos. It was also recommended that each worker continue to under diagnostic medical testing and that each worker be given blueprints of the facility so that they’ll know exactly where asbestos in the located at in the hospital’s facilities.
Although the VA claims that no workers were harmed, the OSC stated that result from the medical inspector’s office indicate that the whistleblower worker showed chest abnormalities during a 2005 medical exam. Yet, even after the medical center learned of the worker’s abnormal results, he was still assigned to job duties that included working around asbestos.
Furthermore, the investigation also revealed that the hospital’s managers failed to create and provide a medical surveillance program for any of the workers exposed to asbestos. Consequently, the report states that “there is no data to determine whether exposure occurred above the limit or not.”
Additional Assistance and Resources for Asbestos Victims
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