05/03/2010

(Mesothelioma News) – The owner of an Alaska building will pay $70,000 in penalties for failing to protect renovation workers from asbestos exposure-even after receiving a warning from authorities that asbestos was present.

Work at the building, which formerly housed the Matanuska Maid creamery in Anchorage, was halted in June 2009 by Alaskan officials. When inspections revealed that construction was continuing, officials issued two citations to the building owner.

“The employer [had] been made aware [of the risk for asbestos exposure] and yet chose to disregard for employee safety and health and continued on,” said Keith Bailey, a safety enforcement officer with the Alaska Occupational Safety and Health agency (AKOSH).

Asbestos-which was a widely used building material in decades past-has long been linked to deadly medical conditions, including lung cancer and asbestosis, a scarring of the lungs that can cause such severe breathing problems that sufferers must often be connected to oxygen around the clock. Asbestos exposure is also the primary cause of mesothelioma, a cancer of the protective lining covering many internal organs. Mesothelioma-which can take many years to manifest itself-is almost always fatal.

With their medical prognosis grim, victims of asbestos-related diseases have seen recovery only in the courtroom. In recent decades, many of those negligently exposed to the material have been awarded large sums-often millions of dollars-in verdicts and settlements stemming from their asbestos lawsuits. Still, many employers, manufacturers, and building owners have continued to allow dangerous levels of asbestos to remain present-putting people at risk.

Investigators from AKOSH say that Northern Lights Center LLC, the company that owns the Anchorage building, knew the building contained asbestos but failed to perform an adequate asbestos exposure assessment. It then failed to ensure that proper procedures were in place to protect workers from exposure and never warned them about the asbestos hazards prior to commencing demolition activities at the site.

In response to a worker’s complaint, Bailey first approached the building’s owners in April 2009. At that time, Northern Lights Center was unable to provide an asbestos hazard assessment-but a survey conducted by an environmental testing company discovered that asbestos was indeed present. Northern Lights was put on notice that it needed to take remedial action to eliminate its employees’ risk of asbestos exposure.

In June, however, state investigators discovered that work had resumed without any of those preventive measures in place. A stop-work order followed, but subsequent investigation in July revealed that work was still continuing. Northern Lights initially contested the $70,000 in penalties-levied with the September citations-but has now agreed to pay.

The building had been purchased by Matt Bobich and his family for $1.5 million in 2008. The demolition and renovation work, Bobich told local news media, was intended to create space for new tenants. He maintained that he did not do anything wrong.

“Apparently I was supposed to file some paperwork,” said Bobich. “My contractor and my architect did not advise me to do that, so I feel it’s more of a technicality than anything else . . . one of those government red tapes that I had to go through.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: