Oak Ridge, Tennessee - Approximately 350 employees were told not to report to work at the Oak Ridge, Tennessee Federal Building on Friday because asbestos-containing materials were found in the heating and air conditioning system during a semi-annual inspection last week.
According to an account of the story in the Knoxville News-Sentinel, the workers - mostly employed by the Department of Energy – were given a surprise day off when inspectors found that some asbestos insulation had become dislodged in an area of the structure’s HVAC system. Originally, that small area was quarantined, but then additional inspections showed that there were similar problems in other areas, prompting the decision to close.
The Department of Energy (DOE) has hired a local environmental consultant company to conduct additional inspections inside the building. While preliminary air sampling pronounced the building “clean”, additional samples and surface swabs were taken and results should be available early in the week. Closing the building not only served to protect workers but also to give inspectors full access to the structure without worrying about interruptions, said DOE spokesperson Mike Koentop.
Though an employee meeting is scheduled for first thing Monday morning, officials have no idea how long the Oak Ridge, Tennessee building will remain closed. In the meantime, says Koentop, officials are looking for temporary space for the DOE employees so that they may continue work without too many delays. The building also houses a U.S. Representative as well as a number of contractors, all of whom were evacuated as well.
Asbestos fibers can be especially dangerous when airborne and traveling through a ventilation system. The tiny, sharp fibers are easy to inhale and can become imbedded in the lining of the lungs, causing the formation of cancerous tumors and – in some cases – an eventual diagnosis of pleural mesothelioma or some other form of cancer.