Source: Pat Gut, Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance
Last year, Officer Paul Zenak received his first reprimand in his 21 years on the Philadelphia police force. But it wasn't because he let the bad guy get away. Zenak got in trouble with his superiors because he was concerned about the presence of asbestos in a church that was being used as a Police Athletic League center and, as such, reported it to higher-ups, who told him there was no problem and rewarded him with the reprimand.
The trouble started when Zenak spied exposed asbestos on 60 feet of pipe in a room that was frequented by children who came to enjoy the programs sponsored by PAL, held at the aging Wissinoming United Methodist Church. The officer took the matter into his own hands, sealing off the area and then notifying the church and his sergeant. Zenak knew about asbestos and its dangers. His uncle, a Philadelphia Gas Works employee, had died of mesothelioma a few years previous.
But the reaction Zenak got wasn't one of gratitude. Instead, the sergeant told him that a contractor working on site was licensed to remove asbestos and that all would be addressed. Instead, when Zenak returned, he found asbestos dust piled on the floor and inside a Shop Vac. He reported it again. This time, his report was followed by the reprimand.
In May, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer, Zenak filed a whistle-blower suit against the church, the contractor, and the city, which partially funds the PAL program. When the suit was first filed, PAL lawyers claimed there was no asbestos at the site and that the kids did not suffer asbestos exposure. Both the city and PAL had hired firms to complete testing, they said.
But Zenak and his lawyer fear that any action that may have been taken to remove asbestos came too late. As part of the suit, they want the health of every child who has used the center since 2008 to be monitored for respiratory problems. Zenak also hasn't been back to work since the suit was filed, worried about a hostile work environment and claiming to be suffering from asthma-like symptoms due to his exposure to toxic dust.
When asked what he hoped to achieve by filing the suit, Zenak said: “I want to make sure everything, if it wasn't done right, then it gets done right. And personally, at this point, I'm pretty [angry]. Every day that goes by, all I do is think about this and what they tried to do to my career.”