County fights claims that workers inhaled asbestos

CHESTERFIELD, VA (WWBT) - Chesterfield County wants to reassure some county employees concerned about their health. At least three dozen workers fear they've inhaled asbestos being removed from the police department.

Thirty-six Chesterfield County employees filed paperwork for Workman's Compensation, alleging that the county put their health at risk when it removed asbestos from a section of the police department. But the project manager said that's not true.

The county's risk manager said 35 of those claims were filed on March 31.  All of those claims stem from construction at the police department, which includes the removal of asbestos.

From a medical standpoint, is the county putting employees at risk?  "Absolutely not," said Dr. Gary McGowen who runs the Chesterfield County Employee Medical Center.   His patients worry they've inhaled asbestos.

"They had a headache or a little dizziness," McGowan said.

But McGowan and the project manager said the symptoms likely stem from the chemical used to remove the glue under floor tiles.

"After we heard the first complaint about odor, we moved all the work to be done after hours," explained project manager Jasna Elswick with the Chesterfield County Department of General Services.  Do you think there's any way someone could have inhaled asbestos?  "No. Not at all."

There is asbestos in the building. About 40 people were working nearby when it was removed. But there are two kinds: friable asbestos which can be inhaled and non-friable which cannot.

Non-friable asbestos is in the old floor tiles and in elbow joints of pipes.

"These windows are operable windows," said Elswick as he pointed out asbestos in a window of a forensics office.  "We're taking them out. Asbestos is in this caulking."

Police are aware of the process which was explained in a mandatory presentation months ago. Elswick showed up several photos which show how the doorways were sealed during the abatement. Construction workers wore protective suits and a special air filtration system was used.

"I feel safe being here," said Dr. McGowan.  Elswick agreed.

But 36 employees do not feel safe. After receiving a complaint, OSHA a workplace safety watchdog, is now investigating.   But Chesterfield County says it has 29 tests which checked air quality and furniture in surrounding offices to back up it's claims that asbestos is not a threat.

The county still needs to remove non-friable asbestos from to phrases of the police department's building. Those phases will begin later this year.

Chesterfield County employees concerned about the asbestos removal process or are worried for their health should seek medical attention and speak with Chesterfield County Risk Management which has documents outlining the removal process.

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