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FY-Eye: Smithsonian and Asbestos

By Ed O'Keefe

Smithsonian Institution officials acknowledge the presence of asbestos at the National Air and Space Museum, but say tests show there is nothing harmful in the air, according to a report in Sunday's Washington Post by James V. Grimaldi and Jacqueline Trescott.

The museum spent $27,000 to clean up 11 areas in five galleries, and industrial hygienists who reviewed the tests say the greatest risk of exposure is to workers who did not wear protective gear. Museum visitors were unlikely to have been exposed unless they walked into a work area after walls were sanded or cut, according to the report.

The Post learned about the asbestos from Richard Pullman, a 53-year-old Smithsonian lighting specialist who had worked in the building for 27 years when he learned of the asbestos last year. He frequently cut into interior walls to install and update artifacts at the popular museum.

Pullman filed a federal workplace safety complaint with Occupational Safety and Health Administration and has locked horns with Smithsonian management ever since. He says he's since been demoted, a charge denied by his superiors. Worse, he's been diagnosed with asbestosis, a lung disease linked to breathing asbestos fibers.

His ordeal is common, according to whistleblowing experts, The Eye cited last month. The "David vs. Goliath" struggle endured by Pullman can often lead to severe professional and personal issues for workers who decide to blow the whistle on management.

Pullman's story also comes at the start of Sunshine Week, an annual nationwide initiative to raise awareness about the importance of open government and transparency. Later this week The Eye will provide tips to federal workers on how to address workplace concerns similar to those raised by Pullman.

RELATED: Ask Your Government: Whistleblowing Tips (Feb. 13, 2009)

By Ed O'Keefe  | March 16, 2009; 10:51 AM ET
Categories:  FY-Eye, Workplace Issues  
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