On March 15, 2004 there was a major fire in Southeast Portland at the Termo Fluids facility. Thermo Fluids was a waste oil and fluids processor in a facility that was under watch for code violations by the city of Portland. Many fluids ran into adjacent Johnson Creek and killed an array of fish. Toxic fumes and burned asbestos were scattered for miles around. On the TV news the following day, hazmat suited workers were shown collecting asbestos from a local park and neighborhood. Residents were told to call the city for asbestos clean-up crews to come and remove the asbestos from their yards. The city said that they would be adding crews to help with the clean up. |
And so they did. They hired Rose City Contractors to get workers out on the calls for clean up duty. My sister-in-law who lives near Thermo Fluids called for a cleanup crew. They arrived, but they were not who she expected. Three Latino men showed up in a private car with leather work gloves, plastic bags and one respirator between them. Hardly the hazmat suited figures shown on the news. The respirator was still in the box because the one man who spoke English didn't know how it worked. Asbestos collected in the bags was not sealed, but twist-tied and placed both inside the private vehicle and in its trunk.
My sister-in-law had the opportunity to speak on the phone with a representative of Rose City Contractors. The Rep said that each worker had received forty hours of training. One might ask what that training consisted of, and whether the language used was anything in addition to English.
It seems clear that the City of Portland and Rose City Contractors have little concern for these workers - at least the ones who showed up at my sister-in-law's house. Asbestos is a highly hazardous substance, easily inhaled, and having long term health effects. That is why such caution is taken with it. There are even special disposal rules, though those seem to be in abeyance in the current situation as the Oregon DEQ Advisory notes, folks should leave the clean up to the "asbestos abatement contractors." However if you do clean it up yourself ...
# Wet the material # Use disposable gloves (or use a plastic bag as a "glove") to pick up the material
# Put it into a plastic bag and seal it - use a zip lock bag or tape the bag shut
# Place the bag in your garbage can
# Wash your hands thoroughly
Place it in the garbage can for normal pickup???
It is concerning that the City and the Contractor are sending out "abatement" crews without appropriate protection, and it is alarming that asbestos disposal procedures are not being followed. How many bags of asbestos are going to the regular dump to then be redeposited wherever the wind blows? How many workers (who are most likely under-trained, under-paid, and temporary employees to boot) are going to be directly exposed to this asbestos? Is the contractor, and the city, exploiting immigrant labor, or just the poor?
If this is the way that hazardous events are dealt with then we are all in a lot of trouble. However, the exploitation of these workers is not only unacceptable, it is morally wrong. The attitude seems to be "clean it up as cheaply as possible, and the hell with the long term health and environmental risks."