The U.S. Naval Academy is investigating how asbestos sheeting material found its way into the school's public works department and may have been used by workers without proper precautions.
"It wasn't supposed to be there," said Capt. Julian Sabbatini, head of the public works department, who ordered the probe.
The sheeting is designed to fashion gaskets for pipe work in the academy's mechanical rooms and heating plants.
Marion Lamb, foreman of the mechanical trades center of the public works department, alerted academy officials on Feb. 8. He said he ordered some new gasket material by the style number and learned from the Hanover, Md., manufacturer that it contained 80 percent asbestos. He said several cut pieces and an unbagged roll were in his work area.
"We've been using it for several years. We were under the impression it was asbestos-free material," said Mr. Lamb, who estimated that about 40 workers from several work centers have used the sheeting material.
Because they believed the material was asbestos-free, employees took no special precautions, Mr. Lamb said. Those using this type of asbestos material are instructed to keep it in a dry and ventilated area and wet the material down when cutting it.
In a memo dated Feb. 28, Gloria J. Brown, safety and occupational health manager at the academy, instructed Mr. Lamb to dispose of the remaining asbestos material in his area and use only asbestos-free gasket material.
Capt. Sabbatini said it was uncertain how much of the material was used or how many workers were exposed. He also said records indicate no asbestos material was ordered within the last two or three years.
Workers with concerns about exposure were instructed to contact the occupational health director at the Navy Medical Center at the academy. Also, workers have been notified that an asbestos awareness training class is scheduled for April.
When inhaled, asbestos flakes can cause lung irritation and in extreme cases mesothelioma, a cancer of the lung lining or abdomen.