Thursday, January 10, 2013

Housing Authority to pay for workers' asbestos-poisoning tests

(Article from the

(Massachusetts) Several months after questions were raised about the Lowell Housing Authority's possible improper handling of asbestos during a major renovation project, the agency has agreed to pay for and promote the opportunity for its maintenance employees to get tested for asbestos poisoning.

LHA Executive Director Gary Wallace said Wednesday he has consented to the request put forth by the union representing the maintenance employees because he wants to allay any concerns LHA workers may have about exposure to asbestos.

"It makes sense for some of the older people who might have worries," Wallace told The Sun. "We also want to put the issue to rest."

Angelo Karabatsos, president of the union representing the LHA's maintenance workers, said the idea of employees receiving asbestos testing first emerged last year after the LHA decided to bring on a environmental consultant to determine how much asbestos is present at all of its major developments.

The decision to hire a consultant came in the months following the City Council's call for an investigation into whether asbestos was handled improperly during the LHA's renovations at North Common Village from 2008 to 2011. The Inspector General's Office released a report in October saying there was no evidence asbestos was removed during the project, but two other state agencies determined that proper testing was not done prior to the work.

Also, the LHA's consultant found asbestos in the second layer of floor tile and associated mastic of the only North Common unit it tested over the summer.

Karabatsos said Wednesday he put forward the testing proposal so his members who want the testing because of concerns have access to it. He is strongly encouraging his members who have been at the LHA the longest to get tested because many of the old buildings at the LHA used to be full of asbestos and some still remains.

"The guys who have been there many years would be wise to get tested to put their minds at ease," Karabatsos said. "There is no doubt in my mind some of them were interacting with asbestos for years."

Karabatsos praised the LHA for agreeing to set a specific date, time and place for the testing and make sure LHA employees are aware of it.

Workers can also get tested for unhealthy exposure to lead, added Karabatsos. He estimates close to 50 LHA employees would be eligible to receive the testing.

"The housing authority is living up to their responsibility to their workers," Karabatsos said.

Both Wallace and Karabatsos said they expect the testing to be scheduled for some time in the coming weeks.

The health consequences for exposure to asbestos fibers and lead paint can be very severe.

Exposure to asbestos fibers can lead to tissue scarring, lung diseases and mesothelioma.

Meanwhile, unhealthy exposure to lead can cause lead poisoning, which has a variety of symptoms, including a decline in mental functioning.

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