News Releases

Senator Murray Demands Answers on Worker Safety Violations and Asbestos Exposure in Capitol Hill Tunnels

Mar 20 2007

In sharply-worded letter to Architect of the Capitol, Murray Seeks Answers to Ongoing Safety Problems Revealed at her March 1st Hearing

(Washington, D.C.) - Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash) released a letter she wrote last week to Acting Architect of the Capitol (AOC) Stephen Ayers seeking answers on ongoing safety violations in the miles of utility tunnels under the U.S. Capitol complex.



In 2000, the Office of Compliance cited thousands of health and safety violations by the Architect of the Capitol (AOC). The AOC's inattentiveness and seeming indifference to those violations came to light this month when tunnel worker John Thayer testified at a hearing Murray held on March 1st. Murray, who chairs the Senate HELP Subcommittee on Employment and Workplace Safety, called the hearing to examine her bill to ban asbestos. Mr. Thayer testified that AOC employees were exposed to asbestos, were denied safety equipment and training, were pressured to not report problems, and were not reimbursed for an independent medical evaluation.

"It was a shock to all of us to hear about inadequate asbestos abatement methods and the asbestos exposures to Architect of the Capitol (AOC) workers and possibly to the staff and residents of the Capitol Hill community," Murray wrote. "The defensive posture of your office and its seeming indifference to address the issues raised by the Office of Compliance a year ago has not served anyone well - most importantly the innocent tunnel workers."




Specifically, Murray sought answers on the lack of training for workers, the lack of protective equipment, the AOC's failure to inform workers of the dangers they faced in the tunnels, and the pressure put on workers to not report these problems.



In addition, Murray asked the Architect to explain his plans for removing the remaining asbestos in the utility tunnels, for training workers and contractors to safely handle asbestos, and for providing personal protective equipment for tunnel workers.



Finally, Murray said that the Architect should personally apologize to tunnel workers for the way they've been treated. Murray wrote that the AOC's failure to pay for an independent medical evaluation, "tells me that you may have been more worried about your legal liabilities in this matter than providing the best care possible for these men."



Details on March 1st Hearing

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The text of Senator Murray's letter follows:



March 16, 2007



Stephen Ayers
Acting Architect of the Capitol
Washington, DC 20515




Dear Mr. Ayers,



I am writing to you to express my deep concerns about the ongoing hazardous working conditions in the US Capitol Power Plant Utilities Tunnels.



On March 1st I chaired a hearing in the HELP Subcommittee on Employment and Workplace Safety focusing on the critical importance of banning the use of asbestos in America. During that hearing I was very troubled to learn from Mr. John Thayer about the lack of attention to asbestos control in the Capitol Hill utility tunnels. It was a shock to all of us to hear about inadequate asbestos abatement methods and the asbestos exposures to Architect of the Capitol (AOC) workers and possibly to the staff and residents of the Capitol Hill community.



I was also concerned about the lack of training provided to the workers; apparently they were also not informed about the potential dangers to their health of working around asbestos. Lastly, we heard about pressure put on workers to not report these problems to Congress and efforts to restrict their access to evaluation by a physician of their choice.



This letter is to request information on your specific plans to remove the remaining asbestos in the utility tunnels, including criteria for selection and monitoring asbestos abatement contractors, containment strategies, and training of both AOC and contract workers. I am also interested in your plans to provide proper personal protective equipment for AOC workers as well as adequate awareness training.



Lastly, I want to know why you were only willing to pay for the doctors you referred to the men. I have known and worked with Dr. Harbut for a number of years. He is one of the foremost specialists in the field of detecting occupationally related asbestos cancers in patients, including mesothelioma.



Given what the AOC's office has put these men through, I would have thought you would have wanted to do whatever your office could to begin to correct this horrible situation involving these dedicated public servants. Your decision does make me wonder whether you are willing to provide the best possible care for these men.



It also tells me that you may have been more worried about your legal liabilities in this matter than providing the best care possible for these men. Are the physicians you referred the men to board certified pulmonologists or otherwise credentialed in occupational medicine or respiratory diseases, particularly mesothelioma?



Reducing and ultimately eliminating asbestos exposure in the US is of utmost importance to me and I hope you will join me in doing everything we can to protect the health of our AOC utility tunnel workers. The defensive posture of your office and its seeming indifference to address the issues raised by the Office of Compliance a year ago has not served anyone well - most importantly the innocent tunnel workers.



I trust you will meet with all of the tunnel workers in the very near future to offer your apologies for the way they have been treated up till now.



I look forward to receiving your responses by March 31st.



Sincerely,





Senator Patty Murray
Chairwoman
HELP Subcommittee on Employment and Workplace Safety