Federal Officials Investigate Nevada’s Handling of Hotel’s Asbestos Violations
01/17/2011 // Chicago, IL, USA // Mesothelioma Lawyers – Cooney & Conway // Cooney & Conway
The US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is examining whether Nevada regulators went too easy on the Flamingo Las Vegas, a mega hotel in the gambling mecca, after serious asbestos violations were discovered there.
Officials with OSHA, the federal government’s workplace safety agency, notified Nevada OSHA in late November that it would be looking into Nevada’s 2007 investigation in the asbestos case.
What isn’t in dispute: Renovation work at the hotel resulted in asbestos exposure for workers and possibly guests – potentially putting them at risk for asbestos-related diseases like lung cancer and mesothelioma.
The federal probe was triggered by a complaint from Chuck Gillenwater, a carpenter who worked at the Flamingo in 2007. Gillenwater alleges that Nevada OSHA understated the extent of the Flamingo’s asbestos contamination, even though the agency upheld three safety violations.
Previously, the hotel’s sister property, Harrah’s Las Vegas, had been cited for similar asbestos violations -14 counts, grouped into four violations-during its own renovation work.
Long a popular building material because of its heat- and fire-resistant qualities, asbestos has been linked scientifically to a range of deadly diseases, notably mesothelioma, an aggressive and incurable cancer that strikes the protective lining covering many of the body’s internal organs.
Mesothelioma can take decades to develop, but once diagnosed, the disease carries a grim prognosis. While mesothelioma lawyers have won many large settlements and verdicts-often in the millions of dollars-against those who have improperly used, sold or handled the material, or failed to warn or protect others, mesothelioma researchers still struggle to beat back the disease.
Renovation work, in particular, presents serious asbestos dangers, because the material can easily be disturbed and released into the air. Airborne asbestos fibers inhaled into the lungs can trigger mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases years after exposure.
Records show that even Nevada OSHA, in its investigation of the 2007 Flamingo work, focused on the release of “friable”- or easily crumbled-asbestos fibers into the air when workers handled pipes in guest room ceilings.
While federal and state laws have been enacted to regulate the handling of asbestos-and provide a strict regime of procedures to follow during renovation and demolition work involving asbestos-following these rules is often costly, and contractors and building owners often evade them. The consequences can be grave: not just penalties for the offenders, but a heightened risk of mesothelioma and other diseases for workers and others who come in contact with asbestos fibers.
Mesothelioma lawyers note regulators taking an increasingly hard line when it comes to enforcement, at times even bringing criminal charges carrying jail time against violators. But they point out, too, that asbestos violations continue to occur at a discouraging and dangerous pace.
Gillenwater has two main contentions. First, he alleges that workers also released non-crumbling asbestos into the air by breaking down asbestos-containing wallboard between guest rooms-something state investigators did not address in 2007. A fellow worker concurred with Gillenwater, claiming that the demolition crew used sledgehammers to destroy the walls and that the activity created dust “like a fog where you couldn’t sometimes see the end of the hallway.” The second worker also claims that managers on the site initially gave workers only basic dust masks to wear and provided better gear only after yet another worker complained to Nevada OSHA.
Second, Gillenwater contends that workers spread asbestos fibers outside the hotel’s containment zones by hauling demolition debris through the building and out to Dumpsters. An OSHA summary of the complaint notes that “asbestos-containing materials (were) tracked into the employee dining area, kitchen bakery area and elevators.” Thus, hotel maids, room service staff and possibly guests may also have been exposed to asbestos fibers.
Federal regulators have focused on Nevada OSHA before. After 2009 congressional hearings examining a series of southern Nevada workplace deaths, including those resulting from hotel construction accidents, the federal OSHA opened a branch office in the state. Mesothelioma lawyers say the actions of federal and state officials in this case demonstrate how far asbestos regulation and enforcement has come-and how far it still has to go.
*This news story was brought to you by the mesothelioma lawyers at Cooney & Conway. For more than half a century, we have been advocates for those injured due to the wrongful actions of others. We have litigated and resolved some of the nation’s most significant asbestos lawsuits, bringing justice-and financial compensation-to victims of asbestos exposure and the lung cancer, mesothelioma and other deadly diseases it can cause.
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