Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Capitol Tunnel Syndrome

I wrote in March about the 100 year old utility tunnels between the US Capitol building that are daving in and filled with crumbling asbestos and how Architect of the Capitol Alan Hantman admitted that he had not done enough to protect workers. Capitol management had apparently known for years about the asbestos, but hadn't even warned the workers to wear respirators.

The tunnel workers are working with Public Citizen's Congress Watch to get legal advice, and they received medical examinations that show evidence that the asbestos may have already damaged some workers' health
During a meeting with Public Citizen on June 7, [tunnel supervisor John] Thayer told the crew and congressional staff members present that routine tests for asbestos only began after the crew wrote a letter alerting members of Congress to the dangerous working conditions.

“The samples [from asbestos tests] we were getting ... were 30 times over the legal limit,” Thayer said during the meeting. “I’ve been there for 22 years. I’ve never worn a respirator until March 16, 2006. I have had problems with my lungs.”

Thayer and several members of his crew have been treated for respiratory illnesses. Thayer has been diagnosed with scarring of the lungs, 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 20-40 years after inhalation of the fibers.
The situation now seems to be going from bad to worse. When one of the AoC workers, Christian Raley, went to the Office of the Attending Physician (OAP) to obtain his medical records last week, he was told that everyone's medical records had been shipped to another facility. When the workers protested that they hadn't give their permission, attending physician, Wesley Mills.
told him and other members of the tunnel shop who were listening on a speaker phone that the AoC owned the records and that AoC officials “could do what they wanted with them” and could send them “wherever they deemed necessary.”

“They took my records without asking me,” Raley said. “Now I can’t go to my doctor because I don’t have my records.”

Other members of the team reacted with outrage over what they perceived as a violation of their privacy.

“AoC feels they have the right to do whatever they want with the records without any input from the patients themselves,” said one tunnel team member who asked to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation. “We are not owned by the AoC to be treated without any compassion whatsoever.”
Finally, check out this comment from one of the "tunnel rats." What a nightmare: one "tunnel rat" has a stress-related stroke, people are caught sneaking into the tunnels for what? Parts of the tunnel continue to collapse without warning. Asbestos-contaminated air gets blown outside for the public to breathe, and the money allocated for cleanup is being wasted on other things, and they've gotten the workers a shrink.

What a country!