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VA hospital may have exposed employees and patients to asbestos

For decades, American workers ranging from automobile mechanics to construction workers suffered from exposure to a deadly compound. Once medical science tied asbestos to serious and often fatal cancers like mesothelioma, however, laws changed to mandate worker protection in the presence of this dangerous but commonly used resource.

Due, in no small part, to rising cultural awareness of the danger involved with asbestos, more stories keep coming out about dangerous exposure to this known carcinogen. Most recently, asbestos has made the front pages again due to allegations that a Massachusetts veteran's hospital knew about asbestos risks and did nothing. Inaction for years may have exposed countless workers and veterans in need of medical care to this dangerous substance.

Massachusetts VA hospital severely contaminated with asbestos

On Tuesday, May 1, 2018, the United States Office of Special Counsel made public claims that multiple buildings at the Edith Nourse Rogers Memorial Veterans Hospital had concerning levels of asbestos contamination. Worse, management had known since a 2014 OSHA inspection but did not take steps to address this serious risk factor.

In fact, they even avoided carefully inspecting the facilities to determine what areas had contamination and which ones did not. It took whistleblowers coming forward about the contamination to spur action. An investigation that resulted showed that workers were put at unnecessary risk caused by airborne asbestos. Proper safety practices and equipment could have better protected those workers. If management had reviewed the OSHA report and taken action, those workers could have avoided the dangerous exposure to a substance that could cause cancer many years down the road.

Asbestos-related cancers take a long time to develop

One of the reasons that asbestos was popular in commercial applications for so long was because it was cheap, and there simply wasn't evidence tying it directly to serious medical events. We know now that the medical conditions and cancers related to asbestos could take many years or even decades to develop and present symptoms. That does not change the fact that these serious, often fatal, conditions stem directly from exposure to asbestos.

Employers and property owners should take every step possible to protect employees, tenants and customers from the dangers related to asbestos exposure. Any indication of asbestos contamination should be grounds for careful review and then remediation efforts. Failing to take quick and decisive action could mean the unnecessary exposure of innocent people to a potentially fatal substance.

Those who end up developing conditions like mesothelioma that relate to asbestos exposure have the right to seek compensation. There are special funds for those diagnosed with mesothelioma. In some cases, such as exposure due to employer negligence or talcum powder, a personal injury lawsuit or wrongful death lawsuit may also be an option for recovering financial losses.

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