Top Puget Sound Naval Shipyard (PSNS) safety managers gave misinformation about employee toxic exposures to investigators from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the KING 5 Investigators have found.
Inspectors from the federal agency tasked with assuring safe and healthy working conditions came to the shipyard in May of 2013. They’d received information that testing in April of 2013 inside a wastewater treatment plant at the site showed dangerous levels of a toxic gas in the breathing space of plant operators. But shipyard managers told OSHA those test results were a fluke. In a letter written to OSHA’s area director based in Bellevue, the shipyard said this had never happened before in the plant’s seven-year history.
“PSNS…is confident that its employees have not been exposed to chlorine gas levels at or near (unsafe and illegal levels) prior to (the April, 2013) incident,” wrote MichaelHeesacker, the PSNS director of the Environmental, Safety and Health Office, “by direction of the Shipyard Commander.”
Heesacker went on to explain that no employees had ever reported symptoms of exposure to toxins in the plant.
“Chlorine gas has strong olfactory properties and would produce a severe physical reaction at (an unsafe) level. No such reaction has been reported by employees assigned to (the plant),” wrote Heesacker.
“(This was) worse than misleading. Absolute lies, outright lies,” said Darrick Freeman, a veteran shipyard worker who spent four years in the wastewater treatment plant prior to his retirement in 2015.
In addition to OSHA, the PSNS told KING 5 the building “is and always has been safe” and that the April 2013 high measurements of toxic chlorine gas was an outlier event.