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Contact: Denise Germann, 406-888-5838
WEST GLACIER, MONT. -Glacier National Park employees recently talked with National Park Service Intermountain Region Deputy Regional Director Colin Campbell via phone conference to discuss lessons learned from a near-miss asbestos exposure incident that happened in the park in November, 2010. Campbell was scheduled to travel to Glacier for the meeting, but winter storm conditions canceled his travel.
Campbell said, "We consider the health and safety of every one of our visitors and staff among our highest priorities. While we're thankful there was no risk to the health of our staff as a result of this incident, we can take many lessons learned from this near-miss experience and use them in every national park unit."
On November 18, 2010 work was halted on the construction of a new heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system in the park headquarters building when it was discovered that comprehensive testing for hazardous materials had not been conducted. Park administrators were concerned there was a possible asbestos exposure and immediately shut down the project, evacuated the building and implemented actions in response to the incident.
Immediately, testing by an independent lab was conducted to determine if hazardous materials were released as a result of the construction activities. The tests indicated that no asbestos-containing material or other hazardous materials were released as a result of the construction work. Additional testing of disturbed construction materials by the independent lab confirmed trace amounts of asbestos, lead, silica and non-asbestos fibers were present in the building, but in amounts considered routine and so small that they did not pose a health risk.
Because of the potential severity of the situation, and to help develop measures to prevent similar incidents in the future, the Intermountain Regional Office of the National Park Service sent a serious accident investigation team (SAIT) to the park to identify and document all relevant facts and findings surrounding the incident. This information was used to implement recommendations and serve as an agency safety and training tool.
The National Park Service dispatches a team to serious incidents at national park sites to gather all pertinent data, facts, and root causes that lead up to serious events. Using that information the team identifies and recommends ways to prevent similar incidents from happening at other national parks. Members of the team that reviewed the incident at Glacier National Park included the regional chief ranger, several outside superintendents, an agency operations manager, safety and health specialists, and others.
On November 29, 2010, construction work resumed after testing showed no asbestos or lead contamination had been detected. Despite no significant health risks associated with the project, park officials decided that staff would continue to work in alternative work areas until the completion of the heating, ventilation and air conditioning project. This decision was made to provide employees with a construction dust-free working environment, and to allow the construction to proceed as rapidly as possible.
Campbell told the group of employees that he appreciated their contributions to the investigation. The lessons learned and recommendations from the incident were shared during the conversation, and will be shared with park service units around the country.
The recommendations the park has implemented include:
- Developing a system and process to ensure agency and contract personnel fully understand and comply with all contracting requirements, including hazardous materials testing,
- Providing staff with tools and means to effectively make risk decisions regarding hazardous materials and facility management projects,
- Identifying and involving appropriate managers and safety professionals regarding hazardous materials and facility management project and related training, and
- Ensuring 100% situational awareness regarding hazardous materials existing in facilities at the park.