Architect of the Capitol concludes five-year asbestos removal project

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According to a statement released Thursday by the Office of Compliance, hazards were discovered in the power plant tunnels in 1999 during a safety and heath inspection. Those hazards included asbestos exposure, temperatures exceeding 160 degrees Fahrenheit, falling concrete, insufficient emergency exits and an inadequate emergency communications system.

The compliance office issued a citation to the AoC, but subsequent efforts to abate the hazards proved unsuccessful, the statement added. In February 2006, General Counsel Peter Eveleth filed the administrative complaint charging multiple violations of occupational health and safety standards and sought an order requiring the hazards be remedied.

At the time, lab tests determined that employees within the tunnels of the Capitol power plant — which provides steam and chilled water to heat and cool all major legislative branch buildings on Capitol Hill — had been exposed to extremely high levels of asbestos. Asbestos exposure has been linked to respiratory diseases and lung cancers.

That March, former Architect of the Capitol Alan Hantman testified before Congress that he had not done enough to protect workers from the hazards.

“We have ongoing inspections going — but clearly they were not adequate,” Hantman told the Senate Appropriations Committee.

“We have done a great disservice to these workers’ families,” Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) told Hantman at the time. “If you do not come forward with requests for life-safety measures, [such as] protective devices to protect these workers, then you are not doing your duty.”

“It was a very serious matter,” Eveleth told The Hill Wednesday of the situation. “We [had] no choice but to file a complaint, which we then did.”

The AoC originally offered to fix the tunnels, but only at a fraction of the total sum eventually needed to remove the hazards, he added.

In June 2007, the AoC entered into a settlement agreement that called for the full abatement of the hazards by June 2012. The project, originally estimated to cost $296 million, ultimately came in under budgetm with a savings of 40 percent.

“They have finished it up within the time they were given, and they did it under budget,” Eveleth praised the AoC. “It worked very well.”

“Successfully completing the tunnels project is a big step forward for the safety and health of the Congressional workforce,” he wrote in the statement. “The utility tunnels are now fully compliant with occupational safety and health protections required by the settlement. Tunnel employees can go to work knowing that their workplace is free from life-threatening hazards.”