VA Hospital Cited For Asbestos Hazards

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Murfreesboro, TN—Employees at the Veteran’s Administration hospital in Murfreesboro, TN, are claiming that their workplace was unsafe due to asbestos contamination – and that hospital officials knew about it.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration recently cited the VA hospital, after a months-long investigation, with six violations relating to the asbestos exposure and employee safety. The federal investigation came in the wake of employee complaints. Dwight Statum, who worked as an air conditioning mechanic at the hospital for 30 years, was one of the first employees to come forward.

Statum took pictures of insulation pipes that were covered in white asbestos insulating material. He says that he never received any kind of protective mask or clothing when assigned to work on the asbestos-covered pipes, nor was he warned about the potential dangers of the material.

Asbestos is a mineral fiber which has great tensile strength and is resistant to heat, electricity, fire, corrosion, and many other chemical and biological processes. It was used for years in building and insulating materials, and still remains in many infrastructures, despite its classification as a toxic carcinogen. When asbestos becomes airborne, it is easily inhaled and lodges itself in the lungs and other soft tissues, later leading to deadly diseases such as mesothelioma.

Mesothelioma is a rare but aggressive cancer that attacks the protective tissue which surrounds bodily organs such as the lungs, heart and stomach. It has a long latency period, meaning that workers may only discover that they have the disease years after their initial exposure to asbestos.

“There’s a good possibility that I will suffer some long term effects from being exposed to asbestos,” said Statum.

Employees at the hospital requested respirators but were denied them, according to a local investigation, until OSHA stepped in.

Now, the VA has posted warning signs at the entrances to contaminated areas of the hospital, such as subbasements, and will issue protective gear to any employee who might have to access those areas. Additionally, they are conducting air quality tests. No asbestos problems have been detected through this testing, however.

Don Beard, who is the head of workplace safety at the hospital, called this investigation “an opportunity to improve” the safety of VA employees. The VA also claims that none of its patients have ever been exposed to asbestos.

OSHA’s ruling is yet another blow to the hospital’s reputation, which is already suffering after an investigation revealed the use of unsanitary equipment in thousands of colonoscopies performed at the facility.

 

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