Health Department Employees Working In Asbestos-Contaminated Building

Illustration of potential asbestos exposure in a building

The Allegheny County Health Department’s employees have been working in extremely unfavorable conditions, including mold and asbestos. The Oakland campus is comprised of offices and a public clinic.

Ceilings are exposed, the walls have mold growing on them, water is leaking from the roof and accumulating in pails, and vents have been cleaned with the remnant dust piled on employees’ desks.

“We’ve been told there’s asbestos in the building, there is fiberglass on the tiles, everything is just in a state of disrepair,” said one of the employees Dawn Black. “I started here in 1999 and they’ve been telling us since then they’re going to move us to a better building.”

Some have argued that a building in this type of condition would surely be shut down by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), if it were a private company, rather than government-owned. Among those speaking out is the SEIU Local 668, which held a news conference about the matter on Tuesday.

“The current conditions are unacceptable for workers and patients,” said state representative Patrick Harkins. “It’s the people that don’t have much, and they’re relying on the system to work for them, and they’re coming here for a health issue, and in return they may be exposing themselves to something else.”

That something else is the hazardous toxin asbestos, where its exposure can lead to mesothelioma cancer—an aggressive cancer affecting the membrane lining of the lungs and abdomen.

The Health Department claims that come December it will either sell the building or renovate it. Many are upset with this time being so far away.

“It has to be done right now. These folks are living in dangerous conditions,” said John Listisen.

According to the facilities manager, the photos were taken before work totaling up to hundreds of thousands of dollars was completed. Yet, some employees have been handing out fliers to the public to spread the word regarding the mold and asbestos-contaminated conditions they’re forced to work in. A man who visits the clinic each year for his flu shot, Joe Shepler, “was alarmed by the conditions.”

“It’s disgusting. I mean this is supposed to be a clean, safe space and I come here and I haven’t noticed these specific things, but I have noticed it’s always shabby and dirty,” said Shepler.

The Allegheny County Council President John DeFazio thinks the problems still need concrete solutions since workers and the public might be at risk. He intends to schedule a meeting with the health department. Plus, the worker’s union is trying to do the same thing.

“You got a health department and they should be the first ones to make sure things are safe and done properly,” said DeFazio.

Acting Director of the Allegheny County Facilities Management Department Doug Nolfi publicly shared the below:

“Allegheny County’s Facilities Management Department has been working proactively to address decades of deferred maintenance on a number of county-owned facilities, including the clinic. We are aware of the challenges of the building, have met several times with employees and their union representatives over the past few months, and are continuing to make accommodations when appropriate.

The clinic is an integral part of the work that the Health Department does and it is important that it remain open and functioning for its patients while we address the immediate needs of the building (plumbing, roof, heating/cooling, etc.). We will continue to look at the building’s long-term capital needs against other options including relocating the facility to a building that may be more appropriate for the future of the clinic.”