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A crew working on a renovation for Borough Hall in Staten Island claim that they were exposed to asbestos. The workers included 6 inmates and 2 officers that were supervising. Now the officers have filed a notice of intent to sue the city for damages, and the inmates have expressed a desire to join the suit.

The inmates were asked to tear up some carpet and floor tiles in a half-gutted office and weren’t stopped until several hours after they had begun working. The environmental engineer on the scene told them to stop because he thought the floor tiles they were ripping out contained asbestos.

A tile from the construction area was tested and it was found to contain dangerously high levels of asbestos, which is more than four times the amount that triggers the city’s requirements that the material be removed only by licensed asbestos engineers. The tile sample contained 4.3% asbestos by weight, and only 1% is aloud for normal construction workers to handle.

The correction officers, from the Arthur Kill Correctional Facility on Staten Island, say that they and the inmates might have been exposed to asbestos for nearly a year. They had been working in the headquarters of the Topographical Unit, on the ground floor of Borough Hall, since October as several contractors tore up most of the rest of the floor tile in the room, and no one had warned them of any danger.

The officers also said that they were never even offered dust masks for protection.

Inhaling asbestos fibers can greatly increases the odds of contracting asbestosis, mesothelioma, lung cancer, gastrointestinal cancer, and other cancers. Furthermore, EPA has called asbestos a “highly potent carcinogen” that causes “severe health effects after even short-term, high-level or longer-term, low-level exposure.”

For more information on this subject, please refer to our section on Workplace Injuries and Discrimination.

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