United Airlines Warned Employees: ‘Avoid Breathing Airborne Asbestos Fibers’

Barbara Hollingsworth | November 14, 2014 | 6:01pm EST
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Sign telling employees to "avoid breathing airborne asbestos fibers" that was posted at United Airlines' former World Headquarters in Elk Grove Village, Illinois.

(CNSNews.com) – A sign posted inside a room at United Airlines’ (UAL) former World Headquarters and Executive Training Center (WHQ) in suburban Chicago told employees to “avoid breathing airborne asbestos fibers,” according to documents filed with the U.S. Department of Labor by one of the airline’s senior facilities and maintenance mechanics.

The sign also warned United employees that the airborne asbestos fibers posed a “cancer and lung disease hazard.”

CNSNews.com sent a copy of the sign to Christen David, director of corporate communications at United, and asked her how United employees were supposed to follow those instructions.

“Thank[s] for reaching out to us, but we will not comment on this pending litigation,” David replied in an email, adding that “all of these facts relate to the litigation, so we won’t be commenting until that matter is resolved.”

Paul Simkus, who started working at United in 1983, accuses the airline of covering up “asbestos release episodes… during major remodeling and renovation work in a facility already known to contain asbestos,” and failing to disclose the airline’s potential liability to investors and shareholders on United’s Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) filings as required by federal law.

In his amended Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) complaint, which was filed on Jan. 7, 2013, Simkus stated that “asbestos release episodes and incidents did in fact occur at the United Airlines World Headquarters executive offices and training center campus located at 1200 East Algonquin road in Elk Grove Township of Illinois.” (See Amended Complaint 2012 SOX 00016001 (2).pdf)

In a Sept. 14, 2014 motion filed in connection with the case, Simkus also stated that he “personally witnessed asbestos debris fall from the ceiling registers onto employees' heads and onto employees’ desktops during the 10 years [he] worked in the United Airlines Facilities & Maintenance department.” (See Part 1 of 2 Complainant's September 14 2014 Motion 001 (2).pdf)

According to the SOX complaint, which is currently being heard by Administrative Law Judge Pamela Lakes, the eight-story WHQ, which was built in 1959, “was known to have an unusually high amount of asbestos throughout the entire campus because it was used as an insulator on most all hot water pipes…and sprayed on many ceilings inside the WHQ offices because of its fire resistant properties.”

However, a fire broke out at the WHQ facility and Managed Response, Inc., which was called in to clean up after the blaze, “coordinated the asbestos and mold abatement work,” according to its website.

Danger sign next to a door warning United Airline employees that airborne asbestos fibers at its former world headquarters in suburban Chicago posed a "cancer and lung disease hazard".

In 2007, United announced that it would be moving from the Elk Grove location to downtown Chicago.

“The complainant believes [asbestos] is the main reason that United Airlines has since recently practically abandoned the entire South campus WHQ building and moved their operations to the Willis Tower in downtown Chicago,” according to court documents.

Simkus also accused the airline of retaliating against him for reporting “serious asbestos health and safety issues” to UAL management between 2007 and 2009 even though the airline had him trained and certified under the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA).

He also alleged that United retaliated against him for issuing a stop-work order to an outside contractor who was doing improper asbestos abatement work in the WHQ’s classrooms, where flight attendants, pilots, ramp-service employees and managers went for in-house training.

Simkus also claims he was forced to transfer to United’s facilities at O’Hare International Airport after he reported the asbestos releases to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) - which fined UAL $192,500 for “willful disregard of employees’ health”.

He previously accused the airline of “putting the entire flying public at risk” by its “alteration or falsification of records in 2007-2009 during SOX federal audits of United Airlines facility maintenance inspection reports critical to the daily operations of United Airlines which may have resulted in numerous network outages.”

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