Construction Halted at URMC Over Asbestos Concerns

Tim Goral's picture

Positive tests for asbestos at various construction sites have forced the University of Rochester Medical Center to shut down all construction involving interior drywall on its property, indefinitely.

Now, OSHA and the New York State Department of Labor are on-site, investigating a potential asbestos exposure to construction workers.

Asbestos was discovered in February and March, where construction crews were actively working on a renovation project inside URMC's former Blood and Bone Marrow Wing. According to asbestos survey data obtained by YNN, asbestos chemicals chrysotile and anthophyllite were discovered in drywall, caulk, spackle, cement and fire stop materials. Only chrysotile was disturbed demolition, with amounts ranging from as little as two percent to as much as 6.7-percent of bulk samples. According to an official from the EMSL Analytical, Inc. asbestos survey lab in Depew, N.Y., any amount more than one percent must be considered hazardous under New York State guidelines, and be removed under the provisions of NYS Code Rule 56.

The University says the asbestos was disturbed during demolition work, which may have caused it to become airborne, though air tests performed two days after the second potential exposure returned negative.

Construction workers who have been on the project for months maintain that the air tests were taken too late to tell whether asbestos was an airborne threat. The workers tell YNN they are worried for their health and safety.

"We just don't want to see this get pushed under the rug," said one worker, who wished to remain anonymous. "It's affected a lot of local construction workers."

The University confirms that construction workers on a number of interior demolition projects were most at risk for low-percentage exposures to asbestos. However, University officials did say they cannot be sure exactly how much asbestos the workers were exposed to, or for how long those exposures may have taken place.

"They as the owners had the responsibility," says the anonymous construction worker. "And they hadn't been doing what they needed to do."

The University admits that on any project involving demolition of old facilities, its crews are required to test for asbestos. In this project, the University relied heavily on historical records and assumptions about which materials were contaminated. In fact, because of those historical records, asbestos-laden flooring was removed from the project area in January.

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