Understanding, Managing, and Living with the

Health Effects of Asbestos

Asbestos Lawsuit Plaintiff Says Asbestos Concern Fell on Deaf Ears

March 12, 2014

Staten Island, NY A plumber whose complaints and concerns about an alleged presence of asbestos at a Staten Island hospital fell on deaf ears was fired in December. The plaintiff in an asbestos lawsuit claims that he was let go because he spoke up.

The plaintiff, James Pepe, has yet to suffer a diagnosis of asbestos mesothelioma - and he may have to wonder for decades if that might happen, given the incubation period for minute, airborne asbestos fibers to incubate inside the body before emerging into, what is for most, a death sentence. And yet, in spite of a widespread awareness of the dangers of asbestos exposure, Pepe claims in his asbestos compensation lawsuit that his employer complained it would be too costly to abate exposed asbestos, and repeatedly refused to entertain a request to provide Pepe with protective gear, or so it is alleged.

The employer named in the lawsuit is Richmond University Medical Center, which is also affiliated with Mount Sinai Hospital stemming from a clinical affiliation between the two hospitals that took effect in early 2012.

According to the Staten Island Advance (2/26/14), Pepe was hired as a plumber by the hospital in 2005. Two years later, according to court documents, Pepe approached his supervisor with a concern over exposed and friable asbestos present throughout the plumbing shop where Pepe was based. Pepe maintains his concerns were rebuffed, and he was told the hospital “can’t afford to have [the asbestos] abated,” court records state.

According to the asbestos lawsuit report, Pepe continued to perform various plumbing tasks throughout the hospital spanning six years, from 2007 through 2013. Amongst the duties he is said to have performed, was the repair of a high-pressure steam pipe inside a tunnel, together with the repair of other pipes in the basement, sub-basement and in the ceilings on various floors of the facility.

At one time, asbestos was favored as an insulation material for pipes and ductwork. The age of the building where Pepe worked was not outlined.

The plaintiff contends that each time he raised concerns about the potential for asbestos exposure and his concerns surrounding the potential for asbestos cancer, he was rebuffed. Pepe further states that he feared for his job and performed all tasks in spite of his concern, given his assertion that his employer threatened to have him fired if he didn’t stop complaining. “Shockingly, defendants wholly ignored plaintiff Pepe’s very serious complaints of asbestos contamination in the workplace and immediately directed plaintiff Pepe to continue working in enclosed areas containing asbestos,” states the asbestos lawsuit, in court filings.

According to the Advance, tensions began to escalate in November of last year when the hospital directed the plaintiff to repair a steam pipe, which allegedly featured fittings that were covered with asbestos. Pepe refused to perform the work without protective gear, and was suspended without pay. A week later, according to court records, Pepe made the first of two complaints to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) with regard to working conditions at Richmond University Medical Center.

Pepe, according to the report, was terminated from his job December 3 of last year, less than a week following his second complaint to OSHA.

In a statement, Richmond University Medical Center said, “We are confident that there is no exposure risk to employees or patients. Richmond University Medical Center takes all safety issues very seriously and has an active process for investigating and addressing environmental concerns in a timely manner.”

Asbestosis and asbestos mesothelioma are two incurable diseases that are caused from unprotected exposure to airborne asbestos fibers. However, symptoms can take decades to emerge.

Pepe seeks unspecified monetary damages in his asbestos lawsuit, which was filed in state Supreme Court, St. George.