Asbestos repairs made after 13 years, $173 million

After a long, drawn-out battle to make repairs to a dangerous tunnel system underneath the legislative branch on Capitol Hill, a conclusion has finally been reached. The entire process took 13 years to complete and cost a reported $173 million to repair dangerous conditions related to asbestos. While it is a good thing that the work has finally been completed, workers who were exposed to the asbestos have found little relief in the recent announcement.

In 2000, hazardous conditions were discovered in the old and outdated tunnel systems. However, many people still worked in the tunnels at the time, putting them in harm’s way. When the asbestos was discovered, it should have been removed and repaired to make the site safe for workers. None of that happened, though.

Instead, the health issues of the workers continued to be ignored. Because they were federal employees, they were not allowed to sue their employers for workers’ compensation benefits for the injuries and illnesses they developed from working in the tunnels. They were retaliated against for whistle-blowing, and received compensation for that. However, no other actions took place right away.

Congress did create an agency called the Office of Compliance. The OOC was designed to ensure and monitor safety conditions in the legislative branch. The agency was understaffed, with few resources. Although they issued citations to the Architect of the Capitol for failure to complete repairs, no other steps were taken until five years ago. That was when the AOC finally promised to make the repairs the tunnel.

The entire removal and repair process took five years complete and cost millions of dollars. It was already too late for workers who had developed mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases. Due to delays and stall tactics, the AOC and OOC failed to restore the tunnel to a safe workplace in a timely fashion. Both agencies claim they had insufficient money and staff to properly and effectively handle the situation.

So, after all the citations and delays and finger-pointing, not to mention the $173 million, the repairs to the tunnel have finally been completed. For victims that suffered in the tunnel prior to the repairs, however, the announcement of the completed project came about a decade too late.

Source: The Huffington Post, “Capitol’s $173 Million Asbestos Saga Ends After 13 Years,” Emma Dumain, May 17, 2012