CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — A maintenance worker in Yellowstone National Park said a park concession company retaliated against him after he reported that he and five other employees were exposed to asbestos at a more than century-old lodge.
Jon Kline told The Associated Press on Monday that Xanterra Parks & Resorts began giving him poor reviews and declined to renew his contract after he reported the incident last March. Kline said he has filed an employee retaliation claim that is still pending.
“We were just told, ‘It’s safe, don’t worry about it,'” Kline said of his exposure while a crew worked on steam lines wrapped in asbestos at the Old Faithful Inn. “It was pretty egregious, in my opinion.”
All asbestos was cleaned up by a certified company before the hotel opened to guests in May, Yellowstone spokeswoman Amy Bartlett said. The inn ranks among the world’s biggest log structures and is one of the most dramatic and recognizable hotels in the national park system.
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The exposure resulted in four workplace safety citations against Xanterra, which paid $15,300 in fines last September. Six workers wearing insufficient safety gear, including inadequate respirators, were exposed to the substance that can cause lung cancer if inhaled, Wyoming Occupational Safety and Health Administrator John Ysebaert said.
An official with Greenwood Village, Colorado-based Xanterra declined to comment on the citations or Kline’s retaliation claim.
“Regardless, the safety of our employees and guests remain our highest priority,” Xanterra Director of Risk Management Gretchen Langston said in an emailed statement.
Xanterra, a subsidiary of the Anschutz Corp., holds contracts to operate tourist facilities in several other national parks, including Crater Lake in Oregon, Death Valley in California, Grand Canyon in Arizona, and Zion in Utah.
At Yellowstone, asbestos got loose from old pipe insulation in at least eight rooms in the west wing of the seven-story Old Faithful Inn, which first opened in 1904, according to state OSHA documents Kline provided to AP.
Pipes that had broken over the winter began spewing steam last March as workers restored the flow of steam to get the west wing heated up for the first time since fall. That part of the inn needed heat before the plumbing could be turned on, Kline said.
Nobody alerted the workers to the asbestos as they tore into walls to reach the ruptures, Kline said.
“They should have been aware of it, based on the age of the building and based on a database that exists,” he said. “Folks knew that there was asbestos in other rooms in that wing, so it was fair to think that there would be asbestos in the rooms that we worked in.”
Wyoming worker compensation laws prohibit employees from suing employers for workplace injuries provided that the employer meets all the laws’ requirements. That includes reporting any asbestos exposure in case the workers need medical treatment later, Ysebaert said.