Friday, December 18, 2009

Wisconsin Dept. of Commerce Rescinds UW-Stout Asbestos Report

The report was first issued on October 27, after a Commerce Department investigator, visiting the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Stout, a polytechnic university, on June 18 and again on July 7 through 9, and the 13, interviewed employees and reviewed documents.
At that time, the investigator delivered a written recommendation to correct each violation found in the original report. One of these included closing the Price Commons elevator, which had been used weekly to move about 25,000 pounds of food, until the elevator could be verified as "safe".
The Price Commons second floor renovation involved spending $3.08 million for asbestos abatement in all ceilings, floors, piping and ductwork; upgrading mechanical systems, and; updating the food service area. The work was performed in the summer of 2009. Price Commons was built in 1967.
Selective abatement services were also performed in employee restroom and the above-mentioned food service elevator, which was the subject of considerable concern over the summer as two employees complained (to the Department of Commerce) about having to use the elevator and being exposed to asbestos.
One of the unnamed employees also complained that no signs appeared in the elevator about its being contaminated for several days, or until it was removed from service.
Asbestos, which can occur in friable and non-friable forms, is a fibrous mineral widely used during most the last century in various insulative and building products. When inhaled or ingested, the minute fibers can lead to mesothelioma, a uniquely fatal cancer of the mesothelial linings of the lungs, heart and abdomen. In fact, asbestos is currently the only known cause of mesothelioma, which lies dormant for decades before producing symptoms severe enough to permit diagnosis, by which time the cancer has become so invasive that most victims are given less than 2 years to live.
UW-Stout has been cited numerous times for asbestos violations, most recently in December of 2008. Before that, the university - located in Menomonie - was charged with asbestos violations in 2003 and 2006.
The most current report, charging 51 violations of health and safety standards, was based on employee complaints. The most vocal of these is John Gast, university custodian and head of the Wisconsin State Employees Union, Local 383.
The Commerce Department has since rescinded the report, largely based on technical details (date of issuance, a signature, a notice of right of appeal) rather than the validity of the charges, and department spokesman Tony Hozeny has already stated that it will be re-written and re-issued.
Doug Mell, UW-Stout's director of communications, says university officials will have to read the updated report before they can comment. Mell, at the behest of Chancellor Charles Sorenson, has said that the original findings primarily relate to state projects (under the supervision of the Division of State Facilities), many of which contain inaccuracies, were not fully transparent, or "were not reasonable".
Sorenson has expressed his opinion that the university is being treated as a "ping pong ball", batted about between the Department of Commerce and the Division of State Facilities - the two state entities in charge of the report.
Gast disagrees, calling the rescinded report "110 percent accurate" and saying the university doesn't care about people's safety.
The university has since issued its own statement, saying there is no evidence any employee, student, or member of the public was "injured or harmed as a result of the alleged events".

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