County Prosecutor Advocates for Asbestos Abatement as Commissioners Neglect to Remove Contaminants

Illustration of potential asbestos exposure in a building

Lake County Prosecutor Bernard Carter has expressed concern for himself and his 40 deputy prosecutors over their work conditions, specifically regarding the presence of decades-old asbestos fireproofing in the county government building in which they work. “A number of our employees have been complaining about sinus problems and are very concerned,” Mr. Carter said.

After a water line burst two months ago, emitting sewage into the office, Mr. Carter and his employees were prompted to take action. “The workmen who came in were all taped and dressed up like they were going into space,” Mr. Carter recalled. “Our employees were walking around unprotected and wondering what they were being exposed to.” As a result, they presented the Board of Commissioners, which oversees the maintenance of county buildings, with a petition to respond to the potentially unsafe work conditions.

Although County Commissioner Gerry Scheub has claimed that the asbestos poses no threat as long as it remains undisturbed, Mr. Carter’s employees aren’t so sure that’s the case. “Testing hasn’t been done in this office for years,” claimed Ms. Barb McConnell, a chief deputy prosecutor. “We have had to tape plastic up in our victim-witness office so the [asbestos] won’t fall on their desks. When there is movement upstairs, you can’t tell me that doesn’t disturb it.”

Mr. Robert Rehder, the superintendent of the county’s government buildings, hired a firm to test the air quality in the office. “He told commissioners they found nothing detrimental to anybody’s health,” said Commissioner Scheub.

Contamination has been an on-going problem in Lake County government buildings. Between 1993 and 2006, $12 million was spent on asbestos abatement in public and work areas, but due to other maintenance costs, the removal program was terminated before Mr. Carter’s offices could benefit. The county has borrowed another $12 million to address building maintenance issues, but asbestos abatement is not currently in any of the plans. Commissioner Mike Repay said that until a professional assessment is made to determine exactly where the asbestos is located, no funds will be allotted to the removal of the toxic substance.

Asbestos exposure can be detrimental to respiratory health; it is the primary cause of mesothelioma, a type of cancer with a high mortality rate.