Asbestos Issue Emerges at American History Museum

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Members of a steamfitters union local said that in 2007, asbestos dust filled the air during renovation of the National Museum of American History because contractors repeatedly failed to take legally required precautions while removing insulation.

A Smithsonian spokeswoman said that as soon as institution safety workers found the problems, they immediately corrected procedures and turned off fans. The museum was closed to the public at the time during a two-year renovation, but American History's full-time staff of curators and employees continued to work in the building.

William Durkin Jr., a representative of Steamfitters Local 602, said that on at least one occasion, it took days before the correct procedures were implemented by the general contractor, Philadelphia-based Turner Construction. Durkin said workers broke apart asbestos-insulated pipes without posting signs or wearing protective clothing. Asbestos is known to cause lung cancer.

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