- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 5, 2001

Federal and D.C. health officials are investigating how exposure to asbestos has affected workers and patrons of the Kennedy Center over the past 20 years.
The investigations into the center's use of asbestos began in July and are continuing as the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts prepares for its 30th anniversary this weekend.
Asbestos fireproofing and insulation was used in the ceilings and the floors, as well as throughout the rafters of the 30-year-old building at 2700 F St. NW. It also was used in the blown-on "popcorn" ceilings throughout the building, including the presidential box, which has been used by every president since Lyndon Johnson, according to documents obtained by The Washington Times.
The D.C. Department of Health and the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) are investigating how the carcinogenic substance has affected people who have worked or attended performances at the center. The operations chief of the city Health Department, Ted Gordon, said all workers at the center — especially those who have worked there several years — should get chest X-rays. The health risk for patrons is minimal.
He said the Health Department stepped in because of employee complaints that the center's staff was not properly protecting workers and patrons. Mr. Gordon said "responsible" property owners remedy their asbestos problems rather than have the Health Department enforce proper removal and inspection.
"There are a lot of buildings where asbestos is as bad," Mr. Gordon said. "It is a situation where it needs to be contained, and it is the responsibility of the owners to deal with this."
Mr. Gordon said his office has not ordered that the center be closed or plans to halt performances, but he is closely monitoring all asbestos-removal work and is requiring the center to monitor air quality in the building. He said the OSHA investigation focuses on past and present health hazards for employees of the Kennedy Center.
Claudette Donlon, who has been the center's senior vice president for about a month, said she is trying to do everything she can to comply with the Health Department's directives in removing the asbestos or putting a protective covering over it to keep its fibers out of the air.
Miss Donlon said workers currently are forbidden from entering the center's ceiling and wall cavities, and the center has begun training employees about asbestos safety precautions.
She said she was not aware the center contains asbestos, a fireproofing material workers discovered while replacing the fire-alarm system this year. She also said she was not aware that Kennedy Center and Park Service officials knew of the asbestos for more 20 years when they tested the fireproofing and insulation in the building and found asbestos.
"I can't speak to what happened in the past," Miss Donlon said.
Cliff Jeter, the Kennedy Center's vice president of facilities for the past five years, did not return calls made to his office.
Mr. Jeter was among the center officials who were given documentation that outlined 23 years of asbestos in the building. The documents were provided by a former safety technician.
Documents show the center's management removed some asbestos, but the Park Service, which had a large say in the center's operations, did nothing to remove the bulk of the hazardous material or train its employees in asbestos safety.
Although the building is national monument, the National Park Service relinquished its role in the building in 1995. There are still 30 federal maintenance employees working there along with about 250 Kennedy Center employees.
Terry Adams, a National Park Service spokesman, said the agency has nothing to do with the Kennedy Center. When told of the Park Service's knowledge of asbestos in the Kennedy Center, he said he would call back, but has yet to do so.
The Kennedy Center is a federally owned building and is operated by a private foundation. Congress pays for almost all of the center's $15 million annual operating budget because it is a memorial to the assassinated president.
The Washington Post first reported about asbestos removal in the Kennedy Center's Opera House and Eisenhower Theater in July.
Last month, Randall J. Kennedy resigned as the center's health and safety specialist after telling top Kennedy Center officials in a memo about in-house files that show the widescale presence of asbestos has been known and documented since 1974.
"These documents from 1974 to 1987 indicate that the National Park Service, Kennedy Center and consultants were aware of the presence of [asbestos containing material] and the exposure and associated health risks," Mr. Kennedy wrote in the memo. "Failure to address the OSHA guidelines as cited above could be construed as willful negligence."
Studies done on the building since the early 1980s show asbestos was sprayed on the steel structure of the $70 million building and on pipe and air conditioning insulation. Engineers found 26,000 square feet of insulation containing asbestos on the steel structure alone, and more was found on the ceiling, walls and floors in the building from performance halls to classrooms.
Kennedy Center officials were told last year that all the asbestos could be removed for $6.5 million, but the project would take eight months and require that entire halls be shut down, said a source familiar with the history of the problem.
Asbestos was used throughout the building as fireproofing when it was built from December 1965 until it was opened on Sept. 8, 1971. But it was not known until later in the '70s that ingestion of asbestos fibers can cause lung cancer and other diseases.
As early as 1979, Leo Gallenstein, an electrical supervisor for the center, warned Kennedy Center and Park Service officials that asbestos was falling off the steel structures in flakes and could become a health hazard to employees, documents show.
In one report Mr. Gallenstein said the child of a theater cast member had swung on a pipe covered with asbestos fireproofing and knocked it down. The next day he found a janitor sweeping asbestos up with a broom.
"Obviously the cast had not been informed by the center of the presence of the compound and obviously no one had told the janitors what it was they had been instructed by their supervisors, either," he said.
A source familiar with the center's asbestos problem said that, over the years, Mr. Gallenstein's findings fell on deaf ears. Meanwhile, the Park Service denied there was asbestos in the building on the strength of a single test conducted by a consultant who searched a small area of the building and found none, the source said.
"I am sorry to say that the National Park Service has dragged its feet on this issue since my first and comprehensive report of April 20, 1979, brought this to attention of the Kennedy Center management," Mr. Gallenstein said in a letter he wrote on Nov. 2, 1987, to Anne Zimmerman, a Kennedy Center official.
Mr. Gallenstein said he concealed the extent of the problem from the public because negative publicity could harm the center. He said he hoped that since he kept the asbestos problem confidential that management would resolve the problems.
"It would have done the center no good for the general public, or Congress, to discover that the children of actors, or that janitors … were being regularly exposed …to asbestos," Mr. Gallenstein said.
"The center management responded to this situation. National Park Service did not," he wrote.
Mr. Kennedy's parting memo to top officials this year — which included Mr. Jeter and Debby Buchholz, the center's associate general counsel — recommended the Kennedy Center begin following OSHA standards and remove the asbestos.
"Due to the adverse impact and potential health risk involved with asbestos, I am forwarding this memorandum to you so that you are fully aware of the OSHA requirement and the responsibility of the Kennedy Center to correct this dangerous health hazard as soon as possible," he wrote.
Mr. Kennedy said he could not comment on his memo.
The Environmental Protection Agency says material that contains asbestos does not pose a health risk unless it is damaged, disturbed or deteriorates over time and releases fibers into the air.


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