The U.S. Department of Labor has slapped New York University with $79,500 in fines for 12 violations of worker safety in its dental lab in Manhattan. A three-month investigation by federal OSHA found the university overexposed workers to formaldehyde, failed to provide respirators or protective clothing, and failed to react when told of health problems.

The probe was sparked by the NYU staff union's complaint that a union member was permanently disabled after being exposed to dangerous levels of formaldehyde in 2003.

"While we feel vindicated that OSHA levied such heavy fines, our experience is that the NYU administration just doesn't get the message that they should care about the health and safety of workers," said Stephen Rechner, president of the 1,700-member Union of Clerical, Administrative and Technical Staff.

NYU is contesting the penalties and the workers' compensation claim filed by Michelle De Paola, the disabled worker whose respiratory system was injured from breathing in fumes while she was a "diener," preparing cadavers for dissection at NYU's College of Dentistry. De Paola was aiming for experience toward a career as a funeral home director.