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Ex-Deutsche site worker: Boss said no to asbestos gear
By ETHAN ROUEN and ALISON GENDAR
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITERS
August 27th 2007 - Haz-mat specialist Helen Rocos says it was the last straw in a long list of hazards when she quit her job at the former Deutsche Bank building because her boss demanded she remove her asbestos mask.
Haz-mat specialist Helen Rocos says it was the last straw in a long list of hazards when she quit her job at the former Deutsche Bank building because her boss demanded she remove her asbestos mask.
An asbestos worker at the former Deutsche Bank building told the Daily News she quit her job at the unsafe, underprotected site after her boss berated her for wearing an asbestos mask to protect herself.
Helen Rocos was one of a handful of handpicked workers chosen for the lucrative job of searching for human bone fragments amid gravel on the roof of the toxic 130 Liberty St. in spring 2006.
She said she and other employees were assured the roof had been cleaned of asbestos, so they wore ordinary work clothes as they shoveled stones and pawed through the roof debris to find the remains of those killed on 9/11.
"They told us they got rid of the asbestos, but as I'm digging, I'm thinking, 'How did they magically get rid of the asbestos, but still leave all this healthy dirt behind?'" said Rocos, 57, a tough-talking certified asbestos handler with haz-mat training.
After lunch the first day, Rocos came back to work wearing an asbestos mask. She said her Bovis Lend Lease supervisor was furious.
"He yelled, 'Helen! Take that mask off your face! You are spooking everybody, spooking the people from the medical examiner's office!'" Rocos recalled.
Staff from the medical examiner's office was overseeing the bone search as TV helicopters circled overhead filming the dust plumes.
"I said, 'No!' I said I doubted they could clean the asbestos on the roof and leave all this other dirt untouched. You had people picking through the dirt for bones, then getting up and eating a Dunkin' Donut, licking their fingers," she said. "It was insane."
When she balked at taking off her mask, the Bovis supervisor called her a "loudmouth" and a "troublemaker" in front of the rest of the crew, though he later suggested she wear a cloth mask as a compromise, she said.
At $300 a day, the pay was good, but Rocos said there were problems at the "black hole" even before the first bone fragments surfaced.
Her pay stubs from the John Galt Corp., a subcontractor hired by Bovis to oversee asbestos cleanup and demolition, show she worked from March 26, 2006, to April 22, 2006.
When she and other workers were cleaning asbestos inside the building, they couldn't wash up sometimes because decontamination units lacked water, she said. Live power lines snaked across floors where asbestos was being removed. Simple things like working toilets could not be found.
The fight over the mask was the last straw, she said, so she quit. Days later, by the end of April, the Environmental Protection Agency had suspended the search for bone fragments because the roof was "not properly cleaned" and asbestos particles were discovered in the dust, officials said.
The companies that ran the cleanup have remained mum since two firefighters died in a fire that ripped through the ravaged tower nine days ago.
Jeff Melofchik, a safety supervisor for Bovis, was out of town, a family member said.
Mitch Alvo, a project supervisor for Galt, said to a reporter who came to his home: "Who the f--k are you? I'm contractually obligated not to speak to the press. I would love to speak to the press. I would have loved to speak to the press for the last year and a half, but I can't."
Rocos said their buck-passing is the least of their sins.
"Those bosses, those ... sons of guns were too greedy or lazy or callous to care. They broke rules left and right. Their time is over," she said.
With Mike Jaccarino