I-TEAM UPDATE: Employee says promises broken following asbestos exposure

Monday, April 22, 2019
News 12 at 6 O'Clock/NBC at 7

THOMSON, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- Seven months ago, our I-Team uncovered documents proving workers and volunteers on a public housing project were unknowingly exposed to asbestos. The documents revealed that the housing director knew about it and said nothing.

Seven months later, and workers say they still haven't received the health care they were promised.

J.J. Cooper says he and a team of volunteers breathed in harmful dust after gutting a house in Thomson. There's a well-documented paper trail leading to director Kelly Evans' desk that the dust was dangerous because it had asbestos in it.

“When I left that property, I went home to my kids. I mean I can play it over like yesterday. When they see me, they run to daddy, jump in my arms. Now, I'm holding them. They're breathing the fibers that's on my clothes,” said Cooper.

Back in September, the director told us she never saw any of the documents addressed to her from the environmental review that revealed the home needed asbestos abatement. Even though she commissioned that asbestos testing and also wrote her initials on a note, claiming she told workers to 'leave the floor and ceiling because of asbestos,' she claims she doesn't recall seeing the results.

It typically takes years for the complications from asbestos fibers embedded in your lungs to cause a problem and sometimes they never do. Asbestos exposure is sort of a dice roll and JJ can't stop thinking about his odds.

“Everybody, EPA, OSHA, everybody says one fiber can cause a problem. My biggest fear is, later on, something does come about,” said Cooper.

In an email, the attorney's office for the East Georgia Housing Authority told us nearly four months ago "employees exposed to asbestos at the....property are being evaluated by a Pulmonary specialist."

Cooper says that hasn't happened. They were allowed to see a primary care doctor but not the specialist they were promised.

“I'm out of options. I made phone calls to workman’s comp,” said Cooper.

Workman’s comp told him the incident was never reported. He asked the director, Kelly Evans, who said to contact the attorney. He sent an email to the attorney, but says he received no response.

“As far as the board, we've been told not to talk to them. We've been told if we talk to them, we're going to lose our job,” said Cooper.

Again, the attorney for the housing authority told us workers were being evaluated by a pulmonary specialist four months ago.

“It's not just you put us in the house, maybe she forgot. It's what you've done after this. Not just her, the housing authority attorney, the board, she told us we couldn't talk to any of them,” said Cooper.

The dust has long since settled on the project but for the employees and volunteers, the worry has not.

“If it was a misunderstanding, why not correct it? Why keep covering it up,” said Cooper.

We asked Cooper why he doesn't just go to a pulmonary specialist, pay for a test, and get answers. He told us, without going through his employer, anything that could come of the asbestos exposure wouldn't be on record as being caused by work and he'd then be on the hook for medical bills.

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