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Suit: Apartment workers exposed to asbestos during renovations

A recently filed lawsuit claims that workers at an apartment complex -- and possibly residents -- were exposed to asbestos when a construction crew was remodeling five vacant units. According to the employees, the construction crew notified management of the possible presence of asbestos in May.

However, the president of the management company furiously denied the possibility and failed to notify the workers about potential asbestos or to take reasonable steps to protect them. Residents may also have been left in the dark.

The lawsuit was filed by two former employees of Tandem Property Management in Portland, Oregon. They claim they were fired in retaliation for their learning about the asbestos issue and protesting, among other possibly illegal reasons.

Asbestos is a known carcinogen. It causes diseases such as mesothelioma, a deadly cancer, and even brief, limited exposures have been known to cause the illness. There is no known safe level of asbestos exposure.

Unfortunately, the fibrous substance has been widely used as an insulator and for other purposes. While many people are exposed to asbestos on the job, asbestos can also be found in older homes and buildings. Many times, its presence is discovered during a renovation or tear-down project.

That could easily be the case here. Indeed, the lawsuit alleges that, after the possible asbestos was discovered in May, the president of the management company allegedly visited the site, "yelling that there was no asbestos and that they all needed to get back to work."

Three workers were taken off the job and ultimately fired. They claim that management thought they were "loose cannons" who might notify Oregon OSHA about the possible asbestos.

In June, management directed a crew to clear the asbestos-related debris by carrying it through the building and down its elevator.

The construction crew had a sample tested. According to the suit, the test came back positive for asbestos. The crew notified the management company.

The next day, however, the company allegedly ordered two workers to remove asbestos-contaminated sheetrock without appropriate training or personal protective equipment.

When asbestos is discovered during a construction or renovation project, the required remediation can be quite costly. The added cost, however, is not something that can be avoided by denial or cover-ups. It is unlawful to knowingly expose workers and residents to asbestos or other toxic contaminants without providing the appropriate protection.

The two former workers are suing Tandem Property Management for $40 million. Additional lawsuits could be filed by others who were affected. If people were exposed to asbestos knowingly or recklessly criminal charges are also a possibility.

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