AoC hires doctor for tunnel workers

The Architect of the Capitol (AoC) contracted a physician to monitor the health of 10 employees who have been exposed to extremely high levels of asbestos while working in underground utility tunnels.

A partial copy of the contract obtained by The Hill outlines several specific duties assigned to Dr. James Allen, who is a contractor through the Public Health Service, according to the AoC.

The $16,305 contract signed on Aug. 1 specifically mentions Allen who it says must “complete a chart review to determine if there have been changes in clinical indicators consistent with asbestosis, in the charts of the 10 [Capitol Power Plant] tunnel workers.”

The contract instructed Allen to “determine that [workers’] medical surveillance records contain Pulmonary Function Tests … chest X-rays with B readings” and any changes in symptoms.

In addition, Allen will be required to “prepare and provide a presentation” to tunnel employees and to provide counseling “one-on-one” for tunnel employees and their families in offsite locations, away from the AoC campus. 

Eva Malecki, a spokeswoman for the AoC, explained that Allen was hired as a resource for the tunnel crew and their families.

Allen “provides alternate medical counseling available to the tunnel shop personnel and their families if they wish to utilize it,” Malecki said.

Allen could not be reached for comment. 

 Malecki did not indicate whether the contract cost was part of the $27.6 million provision in the Senate emergency supplemental spending bill or if the funds to pay for his services originated from another source.
 
Last spring, Sens. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), Wayne Allard (R-Colo.) as well as Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) included $27.6 million provision in the measure. That money was supposed to be dedicated to begin fixing the crumbling asbestos-lined infrastructure.

The AoC has indicated that it could take up to $200 million to fully repair the utility tunnel system, which provides chilled water and steam to the Capitol complex.

 Dr. Michael Harbut, co-director of the National Center for Vermiculite and Asbestos-Related Cancers in Detroit and an expert in the diagnosis and treatment of environmental and workplace diseases, expressed shock and anger that the AoC would hire someone that he argued would continue to use insufficient asbestosis tests such a “b-readings” and spirometry.
 
Several members of the tunnel crew visited Harbut last month for extensive and specific tests.

Harbut compared the AoC’s tactics to those of W.R. Grace, a company currently accused of knowingly exposing employees to hazardous conditions.

“To use a b-rating and spirometry to evaluate people with exposures to arsenic, welding fumes, asbestos, phosgene and organic solvents violates the standard of care,” Harbut said. “I would have expected this out of W.R Grace – not the government.”

The AoC declined an August request from the tunnel crew to fund a visit to Harbut.

Members of the tunnel crew, who could not be reached for comment, indicated in earlier interviews that the result of their tests revealed exposure to countless other harmful substances in addition to asbestos.

The medical condition of members of the Capitol Power Plant tunnel crew has been the subject of debate among government officials and the tunnel crew since it was discovered they had been exposed to extremely high levels of the toxic substance.

In June, Attending Physician John Eisold testified to the Senate Legislative Branch subcommittee that after examining the charts of several members of the tunnel crew he saw no signs of asbestosis.

“Potential exposure to asbestos is what we are talking about,” he told Sen. Wayne Allard (R-Colo.), who chairs the subcommittee. “Medical surveillance is [conducted] to identify those people who may have some adverse consequences to that exposure.”

“If there’s adverse consequences, in this particular case you’d call it asbestosis,” he added. “It’s a very specific diagnoses based upon very specific X-ray findings. We have no such findings.”

Members of the tunnel crew have argued that the AoC failed to protect them from exposure to the dangerous conditions inside the tunnels resulting in permanent health problems.

Crewmember John Thayer, who does not smoke, said in a previous interview that during a physical in 1998 he was told that his lungs were severely damaged and have extensive scarring.

Scarring of the lung tissue is a symptom of asbestosis, a respiratory disease caused by asbestos exposure. Asbestos exposure has also been linked to mesothelioma, a deadly lung cancer that can develop 20 to 40 years after exposure.

“My lung age at 33 years old was 118 years old,” Thayer said he was told after his physical.

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