lungsWhile renovating an Evanston, Ill. Middle school, workers from six separate companies were exposed to asbestos, lead and electrical hazards, according to OSHA, which inspected the site after receiving a complaint. Staff and students were on summer break during the July 2014 inspection.

The agency has proposed a combined total of $132,040 in penalties to the six companies, which include Nicholas & Associates Inc., of Mount Prospect; F.E. Moran Inc., of Northbrook; Environmental Services Firm Inc., of Evanston; DeKalb Mechanical Inc., of DeKalb; ASAP Environmental Inc., of Cicero; and B.B. Construction Enterprise Inc., of Chicago.

The Illinois Department of Public Health coordinated with OSHA in the investigation. The state may take legal action against entities licensed or regulated by the state that violated state law. Legal action may include, but not be limited to, civil penalties or adverse licensure action consistent with state law.

A carcinogen

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral fiber that was used in some building materials before its dangerous health effects were discovered. Fibers are released into the air during activities, such as cutting pipes, which disturb asbestos-containing materials. Asbestos fibers cannot be seen, and can be inhaled into the lungs unknowingly. If swallowed, the fibers can embed in the digestive tract.

"Exposure to asbestos is a dangerous workplace issue that can cause loss of lung function and cancer, among other serious health effects, and workers must be trained in procedures that minimize exposure. Workers should never be put at risk because a company failed to protect them from a known, dangerous substance," said Angeline Loftus, OSHA's area director at the Chicago North Area Office in Des Plaines.

No PPE required

OSHA's inspection found that onsite asbestos consultant Environmental Services Firm directed F.E. Moran to remove 60 feet of piping that contained asbestos insulation. F.E. Moran did not require its employees to implement engineering controls to limit asbestos exposure or to wear personal protective equipment while cutting the pipes for removal, which created the potential for released asbestos fibers.

OSHA cited F.E. Moran for 10 serious violations, which included failure to comply with existing regulations; failure to determine whether work with asbestos complied with standards; and lack of training and respiratory protection.

The agency cited Environmental Services Firm for two willful violations for failure to conduct air sampling and initial exposure assessment for asbestos on the project. The company faces penalties of $55,000. ASAP Environmental received two serious violations for failure to ensure a competent person conducted exposure monitoring and supervised asbestos removal.

Nicholas & Associates, the general contractor onsite, was cited for directing F.E. Moran's employees to cut the pipes containing asbestos without taking the required precautions. Inspectors also found electrical safety violations. The inspection resulted in two serious violations.

OSHA cited DeKalb Mechanical for four serious violations for exposing workers to lead-based paint, respirator and hazard communication hazards.

B.B. Construction Enterprises was cited for one serious violation for failure to collect and properly dispose of debris from asbestos removal operations.