A Tucson construction company exposed workers to asbestos when it sent them to remove pipes from a job site because it didn’t want another contractor to get the valuable copper, a state investigation found.
Canyon Building and Design, 4750 N. La Cholla Blvd., was fined $10,500 last month by the Industrial Commission of Arizona.
The fine followed a months-long investigation by the Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health, the state’s OSHA department, which cited the company for seven violations related to asbestos. Asbestos is highly regulated by federal and state authorities because it is known to cause lung diseases and cancers.
Canyon executives did not return calls for comment.
Canyon was hired to demolish two 1960s buildings and construct a new campus for Basis Tucson charter school at 3825 E. Second St., near East Speedway and North Alvernon Way.
During the incident in May, the company was in a hurry to have the buildings ready for classes to start in August, and may have skipped some time-consuming safety processes, the ADOSH inspector said in a report.
Canyon knew asbestos was present in the old buildings because asbestos surveys were done, the ADOSH report said. The company hired a specialist contractor to remove the asbestos and applied for county demolition permits that require asbestos testing.
Work was set to start after the Memorial Day weekend. However, the removal crew arrived to find much of the work done.
The construction site supervisor told the removal crew someone had stolen at least 60 feet of copper pipe from the job site during the weekend.
Seeing that the site was possibly contaminated with asbestos, the crew left.
Once they were gone, the site supervisor and another worker removed the rest of the copper, the ADOSH report said.
They later told the ADOSH inspector they had taken the copper pipes during the holiday weekend because Canyon wanted to salvage the copper and sell it, the report said.
“The presence and hazardous nature of asbestos was well documented and made clear to this employer,” the ADOSH inspector reported.
Canyon should have assessed the potential for workers to be exposed to asbestos, closed off the work area with plastic sheeting and used air-quality monitors, federal, state and county standards say. It should have used specific methods for removing the asbestos and placed in it airtight containers.
The workers should have been trained in the safe removal of asbestos and should have worn respirators, disposable coveralls, gloves and boot covers.
“However, no special considerations were made by Canyon during the removal of this material,” the ADOSH inspector reported.
The ADOSH inspector rated Canyon’s safety and health programs as nonexistent or inadequate.
The workers’ risk of developing asbestos-related cancer depends on how much they were exposed to, said Philip Harber, a professor and occupational-lung-disease researcher at the University of Arizona’s Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health.
The diseases can take 20 or more years to develop, so it’s especially important for OSHA to document exposure cases, he said.
It’s unlikely there’s any risk of asbestos exposure at the school now, because the extremely small and light asbestos fibers would have dispersed by now, Harber said.
But, he added, it’s worth checking to be sure, which would require tests of air samples.
Basis spokesman Phil Handler said the school always does asbestos testing when required by law, but the materials used in the new building do not contain asbestos and no testing is required.