Academy workers exposed to asbestos


For the second time in three months, public works employees at the Naval Academy in Annapolis may have been exposed to cancer-causing asbestos sheeting material, officials said yesterday.

On May 25, a maintenance worker reported to school officials that he had found a 2-foot square of asbestos sheeting material in a workshop. About 20 workers had been working with the material, which is used to make gaskets for pipe work in the academy's mechanical rooms and heating plants, said the worker, who asked not to be identified.

But when investigators from the superintendent's office arrived at the workshop to inspect the material, it was not there, said Capt. Julian Sabbatini, head of the public works department.

"The worker told us that he had left it in the workshop and does not know what happened to it," the captain said. "No one else has reported seeing it. I am still following up on it. I won't just let it drop."

L He said he has not finished interviewing all of the workers.

The May 16 discovery was the second at the academy. Captain Sabbatini said that after asbestos was found in a workshop Feb. 8, all asbestos material was removed.

In that incident, workers discovered sheeting material that was about 80 percent asbestos in a workshop. The material, which had been ordered from a Hanover manufacturer, had been used for several years at the academy. About 40 workers using it took no precautions because they believed that the material was asbestos-free.

When inhaled, asbestos flakes can cause lung irritation and, in extreme cases, mesothelioma, a cancer of the lung lining or abdomen. No one in the public works department has reported becoming ill from the exposure.

In a February memo, academy officials told workers to dispose of the remaining asbestos material and to use only asbestos-free gasket material. Captain Sabbatini said it was uncertain how much of the material has been used. Records show that no asbestos material has been ordered in the past two years.

Workers with concerns about exposure were instructed to contact the occupational health director at the Navy Medical Center at the academy. The workers attended an asbestos awareness training class last month.

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