Concern over asbestos exposure in the construction and abatement industries dominated the discussion at a meeting at the National Press Club earlier this week in Washington, D.C. The leaders and workers urged that the country needs stronger safety regulations.
Hispanic immigrant workers emerged as the prominent voice of the event. The group discussed the unique issues that they face with unsafe working environments, which are often filled with toxic materials.
“I witnessed a school where they removed asbestos . . . and this asbestos was just sitting loose on the ceiling,” said Pedro Osorio, a construction worker in Washington, D.C.
Osorio, unlike others, vocalized his concerns to his boss only to see very little action taken.
Fear of Being Fired
Many of the workers are immigrants with language barriers. As a result, some are afraid to blow the whistle about safety concerns because they fear they may lose their jobs.
Despite rational concerns about health, some have even been threatened by management to be replaced if they speak out. Because of an abundant labor force that is available in the area, the workers remain afraid.
Ernesto Torres is a construction worker who also attended the event. For him, it may already be too late. He is sick after working many years around asbestos. Torres can only hope to see regulations changed, for the benefit of others.
“It’s hard, it’s real hard. I don’t want [this] to happen to [anybody] else,” Torres said.
The toxic mineral is blind to race or immigration status but is biased towards those who interact with it constantly. Prolonged asbestos exposure contributes to the thousands of cases of mesothelioma every year.
Lack of Regulations
Laws and regulations exist on the books, but many are poorly enforced. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other health organizations identify it as a deadly carcinogen, yet no national ban exists.
According to a report by the Labor Occupational Health Program at UC Berkeley, the construction industry is filled with an immigrant work force, many of whom don’t even know what asbestos is. Employers take advantage of this.
Construction and abatement companies cut corners in hope of saving money. The consequences of these actions can dramatically affect lives.
“At the end of the day, we should not be cutting corners and putting you and your families in danger and putting all of us in danger just to make more money, and that’s what it comes down to,” Maryland State Sen. Victor Ramirez said.