Members of the Capitol Police union have levied 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 Superintendent Robin Morey in the Jan. 12 notice.
“The work will be supervised by an EPA accredited supervisor. Areas where the abatement of ACM is taking place will be fully enclosed with a sealed containment,” she added. “Constant air monitoring inside and outside of the containment will be performed by a licensed industrial hygienist. We are taking all necessary precautions to ensure public and Senate staff safety.”
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.
“The USCP is unaware of any requirement for an employee who does not work in or who works near a contained area to have protective gear,” she wrote in an email.
Officers were warned not to enter the contained area, and the Capitol Police requested and were provided assurances from the AoC that those conducting the asbestos removal complied with the highest health and safety standards, Schneider added.
“We are unaware of any reason to believe ... that these safety and health precautions were not taken for this project,” she concluded.
But, according to a witness to the asbestos removal listed in the Labor Committee complaint, “there were no signs posted in the immediate areas [of asbestos removal], only yellow tape impeding access.”
“Several times, AoC workers carried buckets of water into the men’s bathroom from the site area, which was also of concern since that may have been used in their decontamination when leaving the site,” the witness added.
A spokesman for the Office of Compliance confirmed receipt of the 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.”
This is not the first time complaints have arisen regarding asbestos removal on Capitol grounds.
In 2006, six members of the Capitol Power Plant’s tunnel crew alleged the AoC failed to protect them from exposure to asbestos while they were working inside the infrastructure. Asbestos exposure has been linked to respiratory diseases and lung cancers.
At the time, tunnel supervisor John Thayer described the asbestos level as so dangerous that an employee could “pick it up and put it in their pockets.”
Multiple tests conducted that year by a local environmental laboratory found asbestos levels above the personal-exposure limit set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.