Capitol Police officers: Asbestos concerns ignored

Members of the U.S. Capitol Police union have leveled a complaint against the department for allegedly failing to prevent exposure to asbestos while officers were on duty.

In late February, the chairman of the Capitol Police Labor Committee, James Konczos, submitted a formal complaint to the Office of Compliance (OoC) regarding the department’s refusal to take action to protect several of its officers.

According to a copy of the complaint obtained by The Hill, Capitol Police officers were posted in the Senate subway tunnels at a time when the Architect of the Capitol (AoC) was performing asbestos removal to facilitate sprinkler system installation.

The asbestos removal efforts were performed during weekends from February through April, when Senate staffers were not on the premises.

A notice was sent to all senators’ and committee offices, support offices, the Capitol Police and other building occupants to notify them of the asbestos removal work, AoC spokeswoman Eva Malecki said.

“Employees conducting the abatement of ACM [asbestos containing materials] have current EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] certifications, personal protective equipment and necessary training,” wrote Senate Superintendant Robin Morey in the Jan. 12 notice.

According to Malecki, the protective equipment included a sealed containment area set up to protect people outside the work area. Those inside the work area wore full-body, disposable coveralls, gloves, helmets, safety glasses and air-purifying respirators with HEPA filters.

The Labor Committee’s complaint alleges that officers were not notified of the asbestos hazards and that requests to reassign officers posted in the area went unanswered, even after a chemical odor was reported.

Prior to filing the complaint with the OoC, the labor committee brought the matter to the attention of Capitol Police management, including Chief Phillip Morse.

An announcement was subsequently made at roll call that the removal work was safe and proper warning signage would be posted. But officers continued to be stationed near the asbestos-removal areas without receiving protective gear of their own.

According to Capitol Police spokeswoman Lt. Kimberly Schneider, the department took all necessary precautions to ensure officer safety.

A spokesman for the Office of Compliance confirmed receipt of the labor committee’s complaint.

“The FOP (Fraternal Order of Police) labor committee filed a request for inspection regarding asbestos removal in the Senate tunnels and that request is currently under investigation,” the spokesman said. “When the investigation is complete, the OoC will release a report to the parties.”