Less than a year after being hit with an asbestos exposure lawsuit by city employees, the City of San Diego continues to grapple with the safety of its municipal workplaces and the health and safety of those employed by the city. The latest issues with the city stem from asbestos abatement in buildings owned or occupied by the city, and whether the city rushed both the abatement process and moving workers back into the renovated space before it was safe.
According to local media reports, the City of San Diego began moving city employees into a downtown building with several documented asbestos violations, which were discovered by the county's Air Pollution Control District in the summer of 2019. One of those violations read in part, “Specifically, visible emissions were found on various floors inside the building that were exposed to the outside air.” City employees began moving into the building at 101 Ash Street in December 2019 — 1,100 in total according to local news stations.
Documented air pollution violations continued even after city employees moved into the building. The latest occurred the day after Christmas, just under two weeks after city workers moved in. While city officials continued to insist the building was safe, public outcry eventually led to those workers being evacuated and the premises closed to the public. The asbestos-related issues for the city continued.
Recently, a contractor working on the asbestos abatement in the building filed a lawsuit against the City of San Diego, alleging that city officials actually created new asbestos contamination issues and even going so far as to cancel a contract with an independent testing company studying air samples in the structure. The lawsuit claims that instead of first properly remediating asbestos within the building, the city chose to perform spot abatement as contractors encountered it in order to save time and money on the project.
The lawsuit against the company goes on to assert that the city's renovation of the building became more expensive than planned (new stories indicate the city was spending $18,000 per day on rent while the building was unoccupied) and that the extensive renovations disturbed even more asbestos in the structures. The contractor's lawsuit seeks more than $25 million in damages from the city, and represents yet another issue for the City of San Diego as it struggles to find a suitable workplace for its employees.
As a result of the complaints from the contractor, the state's occupational safety and health office has opened an investigation into the matter and will hopefully provide answers as to whether or not workers suffered potentially toxic levels of asbestos exposure.
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