Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) and its contractor, Aloha-based In Line Commercial Construction, were fined $37,500 for asbestos violations during renovations at the school’s Oregon National Primate Research Center in July 2016.
According to the state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), “The violations likely released asbestos fibers into the air and exposed the public.” Prolonged exposure to asbestos can lead to serious health problems including pleural mesothelioma, peritoneal mesothelioma, and asbestos-related lung cancer.
“We do hundreds of projects each year, and to the best of our knowledge, this is the first accidental release of asbestos on OHSU property,” said spokeswoman Tamara Hargens-Bradley.
The university was negligent because it did not hire a licensed asbestos abatement contractor nor did it have an accredited inspector survey for asbestos before the renovations occurred.
The university’s facilities division is in charge of buildings and ensuring any work done to them is in line with safety and environmental regulations. In the past, licensed asbestos contractors have been hired for work.
“Although we have robust asbestos management processes in place, as a result of this incident we have implemented new mitigation strategies, including increasing the number of construction inspectors overseeing our project work,” stated Hargens-Bradley.
In Line Commercial Construction did not safely handle the removal of the asbestos. Instead, it stored the asbestos-contaminated waste in uncovered boxes and disposed of it at a landfill that isn’t authorized to take asbestos.
This asbestos exposure case isn’t the only one in Oregon. Twenty-two known sites across the state contain asbestos. From 1999-2015, 716 residents died from mesothelioma – an annual average of 11 people per million.
Throughout history, many jobsites in Oregon increased workers’ chances of exposure. These included industries like shipbuilding because of the heavy use of asbestos on ships throughout the 1970s, chemical plants because of its heat-resistant properties, paper mills because of its use in building materials and equipment, and manufacturing because it was part of the construction process.
“Asbestos fibers are known to cause lung cancer, mesothelioma cancer, and asbestosis,” said the Oregon DEQ. “There is no safe level of exposure.”