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each of whom told workers that their long-term health risks were minimal. “Everything was within to

Time:2018-10-09 10:21mesothelioma | mesothelioma lawyers Website Click:

were Moved Claim Alleges City

San Diego city officials allowed hundreds of employees to remain in leased office space despite months of construction that exposed workers to cancer-causing asbestos, according to a legal claim filed on behalf of a longtime building inspector.

Weeks after employees were moved from a rented high rise south of City Hall early this year, Deputy Chief Operating Officer Ronald Villa told employees a planned relocation had been delayed so the city would not be on the hook for $1 million or more for breaking the lease.

“The city exposed its employees to deadly asbestos for months while they occupied the 1010 Second Ave. building, and then the city concealed the significance of the asbestos exposure its employees suffered,” the claim states.

City officials declined to discuss specific allegations in the legal claim, a formal filing that is generally required before a public agency can be sued in court. But they issued a statement saying that protecting employees from any dangerous work conditions is a top priority.

“The city takes the workplace conditions of its employees seriously and that’s why action was taken to remove all employees from the building once potential asbestos was discovered,” the statement said. “City employees were instructed to leave all their equipment and personal belongings inside to prevent additional contamination.”

City leaders said they expect to sue the building owner on behalf of the city and its employees.

The employee claim was filed Sept. 14 on behalf of city building inspector Bryan Monaghan. It was signed by San Diego attorney Maria Severson, who said up to 550 employees may eventually join the litigation.

“They’re nervous,” Severson said of the city employees. “Some people have acute illnesses and symptoms as a result of the exposure but what the majority of them have is a fear of cancer, which is a recognizable claim.

“They are forced to live their life wondering if it is going to materialize.”

The two-page claim seeks unspecified damages. A 16-page attachment details the history of the building renovations and a timeline showing asbestos-removal work and subsequent complaints from employees about headaches, nausea and other symptoms.

According to the attachment, the city began moving employees into the building in January 2016. They came from the planning department, auditor’s office, homeland security, information technology and other offices.

In July 2017, the county Air Pollution Control District was notified by Clauss Construction that the building owners, Tower 180 Owner LLC, planned to remove approximately 5,000 square feet of asbestos-containing fireproofing.

It was not immediately clear whether the county or contractor alerted the city or other tenants in the building to the removal project. Clauss Construction did not respond to a message Tuesday and a county spokesman said the county is not required to make such notifications.

By August, city employees in the tower known as the Executive Complex began complaining about side effects of the construction work, the claim says.

In January, county air-pollution officials received an emergency notification that asbestos had been disturbed during renovation work in the building lobby -- and the material required immediate removal.

During subsequent inspection and air-testing, county officials noted that “poorly constructed polyvinyl sheeting containing holes was all that separated the construction zone and the occupied office space,” the claim states.

Samples from late January tested positive for two types of asbestos, the claim alleges.

Between Jan. 25 and Jan. 29, seven separate samples came back with asbestos contents of 20 to 65 percent in fireproofing material and wall debris, the claim said. Four of those samples were taken on floors that were occupied, results showed.

On Jan. 31, the city announced that “in an abundance of caution” it was moving 550 employees from the high rise.

“The city’s lease of Executive Complex was slated to terminate on June 30, 2019,” the statement said. “However, the city has an option to terminate sooner and planned to shift all operations currently located at Executive Complex to 101 Ash St., which the city leased-to-own and is starting renovations in the next few months.”

Five weeks later, at a March 2 meeting with city workers called to address health concerns of the asbestos exposure, Villa told employees something different.

“The reason why it took so long is there was no way for us to break the lease and we would have been held liable for all of that,” he said, according to a transcript of the meeting cited in the claim. “Now that is over $1 million. Is that worth everybody’s whatever? Maybe, maybe not.

“The fact is there is a cost to that and we would have been in litigation over that,” added Villa, who also pledged to post test results on the city website and provide copies of a pending report to employees when completed.

Also attending the March employee meeting were an environmental services expert and an occupational medicine physician, each of whom told workers that their long-term health risks were minimal.

“Everything was within tolerable levels, breathable air levels that would be just as safe as for a hospital or school,” the environmental services expert said.

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