Indecent Exposure

They spent months covered in the dust and dirt of a prison renovation. Now, dozens of officers and inmates say the state risked their lives by making them work with asbestos.

But the inmates' concerns caused the officers to start asking questions. Administrators dismissed them, according to an affidavit filed by Captain Stewart Poole--a plaintiff in the suit, as well as former chief of security at Aspen and a 20-year veteran correctional officer.

"When officers and inmates raised their concerns with the administration, we were either told not to worry about it or that there was no asbestos present," Poole said.

The plumbing and wiring work continued for several months, with men in the crawlspaces almost every day.

One inmate, Bob McCaleb, had a bunk directly under one of the crawlspaces and complained about the constant dust on his bed.

"My bunk would have anywhere from a quarter-inch to half-inch of soot on it every day," remembers McCaleb, who has since been released. "That junk was in the vents, it would blow dust. . . . I was coughing constantly, my nose would bleed."

More inmates were added to the work crew, bringing it to 15. The actual demolition and construction work began around January and February. And that's when the dust really began to fly.

The crew tore out rooms to make an access hall, built new offices and converted cells. Both staff and inmates worked in the middle of the renovation, Marczak says.

"Sergeant Murphy's office was in there, the computer room was in there, and kind of a coffee lounge was in there," Marczak says. "When we started tearing out their offices to get into that back room, you should've seen that place, it looked like a dust cloud was coming right through there. It was just loaded. They were sitting there, just breathing the stuff like everybody else."

Poole's affidavit also notes the dust.
"Many times they [the inmates] would be covered with dust when they finished working. Much of the facility at Aspen would be covered with this same type of dust. It would fall from the ceilings and crawlspaces and get into the air and the food of everyone at Aspen," he said.

At one point during the work, the inmates even lived in the dorm they were renovating, Marczak says.

At no time were any of the inmates or staff ever given protective suits or respirators, despite their worries about asbestos exposure.

Bill Marczak says the crew was repeatedly told the facility had been given a clean bill of health. But that apparently didn't ease anyone's mind. As the inmates worked their way through the construction, they became more and more certain that the material they were shredding was asbestos.

An ADOC report, dated May 12, 1996, captures one corrections officer's conversation with an inmate.

"An inmate asked if I would work around asbestos," the officer wrote. "He states asbestos is all around the attics, walls and pipes of Aspen, and he is very concerned about it. I've talked to two inmates . . . the first is scared to be around asbestos and both are afraid they will 'go to the hole' if they say anything."

Four days later, inmate Armando Gutierrez gave the piece of asbestos to the worker from Spray Systems.

"I was talking to Dave [Knutson, the Spray Systems worker] and Gutierrez came up and asked a question about asbestos," Sergeant Brett Murphy wrote on an ADOC report. "Dave asked him if he could get a sample. Gutierrez came back with a sample. [Name deleted on report] stated, 'He would bet his right nut that it is asbestos.'"

At the bottom of the report, Captain Randall Hoover adds, "Information passed on to Mr. Adams. Sgt. Murphy received call from 'Dave' at 1100 hrs. who said it was tested at 22 percent."

Despite what they had been told, inmates and staff now had confirmation of their worst suspicions--they had been working unprotected around asbestos.

In response, ADOC performed a "limited asbestos survey" of Aspen. The department hired an environmental engineering firm, Law/Crandall and Associates, to check out the facility.

On May 22, Jim Adams, the assistant deputy warden at Aspen, wrote a memo again promising that the facility was safe. No asbestos was found in the air during testing, he wrote, although asbestos was found on some of the pipes and in some floor tiles. Those areas needed to be cleaned up, and Adams hired Law/Crandall and Spray Systems to do an abatement.

"This needs to happen as soon as possible," Adams wrote, "as the department had the building already allocated for inmate residents, and would like to complete the renovation as soon as possible."

Law/Crandall did not return calls for comment.
But in a September 18 letter to the Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health, the state's worker-protection agency, Adams said the cleanup was a success.

Adams told ADOSH there had been five asbestos-abatement operations at Aspen since "the first time I became aware that asbestos was present at the facility."

However, internal ADOC documents show that Adams had been aware of asbestos at the facility for months before any cleanup operations.

As early as October of 1995--about a month after the start of the renovation--the staff was trying to get answers about asbestos.

In a memo to Adams, Captain Poole asked for guidance on proper handling of asbestos. Poole had found a footnote in an earlier memo from ADOC's facilities activation bureau which referred to the presence of asbestos at Aspen.

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