In Bridgeport, Connecticut, the Brien McMahon Federal Building has such a terrible reputation for asbestos, employees can’t wait to leave.
Construction started in 1966, but cost overruns and complications delayed the opening until 1968. The cost, $3.3 million, not counting more than $342,745 for the land, should have bought a sturdy, reliable building in 1966 dollars. Instead, in spite of General Services Administration (GSA) air testing for asbestos in 1981, in 1983 the building was declared 18th in a list of 44 federal buildings demonstrating such drastic flaking of asbestos fireproofing spray that they represented a health hazard to those working within.
The building was so bad that in 1983 the GSA, seldom inclined to spend federal money unless absolutely necessary, voted to remove all the asbestos, but the proposal was rejected by then-administrator of the U.S. courts and facilities branch. Instead, courtroom ceilings inside the building got a “quick and dirty” fix in the form of suspended ceilings, which would supposedly trap the majority of airborne asbestos particles.
Unfortunately, the ceiling treatments weren’t enough, so asbestos encapsulation also took place in all the mechanical, electrical and telephone compartments. Then, in the second week of August of that same year, two fourth floor courtrooms were closed for asbestos remediation.
Still not satisfied, the GSA recommended – scarcely a week later – that the building undergo a floor-by-floor shutdown to remove or enclose all the asbestos, even though the projected cost ($1.3 million) represented more than a third of the original costs, and the earliest possible completion date was 1990.
That plan was also rejected. Instead, in 1984, all heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) ductwork was replaced and additional suspended ceilings were installed in various rooms in the building. To no avail, apparently, since air testing in 1985 showed that asbestos fibers were still present in approximately the same quantities as before.
In 1987, the GSA unexpectedly canceled the asbestos removal project designed to correct this deficiency, even though a report by a Shelton, Connecticut asbestos remediation firm warned that vibration caused by the HVAC blower could release additional asbestos particles into the air-handling system.
Additional testing in 1987, this time by another asbestos remediation firm, showed the presence of asbestos in the air, but not at “unsafe” levels. This, in spite of the fact that none of the agencies involved in asbestos reporting from a health standpoint – the U.S. Dept. of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Division, or OSHA, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and the American Cancer Society – has ever established a minimum, safe level of asbestos exposure.
Between 1996 and 2008, additional asbestos remediation projects took place, and one 2008 test showed asbestos fibers well below the 0.1 fiber per cubic centimeter standard – a standard OSHA admits is for regulatory purposes only , and not a true measure of health safety.
Employees in the Brien McMahon Federal Building are understandably worried about asbestos after 28 years of testing and remediation work. This fear became so great before and during last year’s remodeling that U.S. Attorney Nora Dannehy allowed Bridgeport employees to work in New Haven office instead.
Now the U.S. Attorney’s office and all 20 of its employees are moving out of the Brien McMahon Federal Building permanently, leaving behind what many describe as a rain of asbestos dust every time routine maintenance took place. It joins the FBI and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, two other tenants who have also vacated the building in the past ten years.
Health concerns abound for the federal employees who will remain. Asbestos, a fibrous mineral that can cause asbestosis (a respiratory disease) and cancers of the respiratory and digestive tracts, is so far the only known cause of mesothelioma, one of the “silent killers”.
Mesothelioma, or cancer of the mesothelial lining of the chest or abdomen, commonly lies dormant for decades before producing symptoms severe enough to aid diagnosis. By that time, unfortunately, most patients are given a year or less to live. There is no known cure for mesothelioma, and surgical treatments are designed more to provide comfort than to arrest the course of the disease. Fewer than 10 percent of mesothelioma sufferers live five years or more.
Source: Connecticut Post