Metal workers exposed to asbestos undergo testing for lung diseases
April 5, 2016 12:00 AM
Vicki Greene, a medical technician with Professional Health Services, administers a pulmonary function test on William Bradford Jr. of Allison Park.
Ted Wawrykow of Baden, right, gets his weight and height measured by Michael Brock of Professional Health Services.
By Len Boselovic / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Paul Toki spent more than 20 years as a sheet metal worker, a lot of it in coal-burning power plants where dealing with asbestos was part of the job.
The 69-year-old retired member of Sheet Metal Workers Local Union 12 recalled using a metal grinder with a spinning wheel to remove sheet metal that had been installed next to insulation that contained asbestos.
“The wheel would hit [the insulation] and the dust would fly,” recalled Mr. Toki, who has been diagnosed with asbestosis, a lung disease developed from inhaling asbestos particles.
“It was right after I retired that I started having problems,” said Mr. Toki, who retired in 2004 and lives in Windber, Somerset County.
The disease puts Mr. Toki at greater risk of developing mesothelioma, a rare lung cancer. It is why he joined other journeymen sheet metal workers Monday for health screenings at Local 12’s headquarters on Gulf Lab Road in Harmar. The testing included a blood pressure check, blood work, a pulmonary test and chest X-ray.
The testing was organized by the Sheet Metal Occupational Health Institute Trust, the health and safety arm of the international union that Local 12 is part of. The trust screened 1,400 workers last year and expects to check another 1,800 this year. The screenings are funded by a paycheck deduction of 2 cents for every hour a union member works.
“I’m taking advantage of things we paid for,” said Gary Batykefer, 63, who showed up for the screening.
The McCandless resident completed the union’s five-year apprenticeship program in 1980 and worked in construction and as the union’s business manager before taking a job as administrator of the Fairfax, Va.-based trust in 1996. He retired in 2013.
Mr. Batykefer said anyone with more than 20 years of construction work experience is eligible for the screening. That’s because it generally takes about 25 years for signs of mesothelioma to show up.
“They never really regulated [asbestos] or stopped the use of it until the 1970s,” he said. ”Now people are looking for it. They know what to do if it’s there.”
Keith Schettler, training coordinator for Local 12’s apprenticeship program, spent more than 30 years in the construction industry. He worked on a lot of major office buildings in Pittsburgh and said he routinely came across asbestos in insulation, plaster, drywall, carpets and floor tile.
“In the old days of construction, hazards weren’t addressed,” Mr. Schettler said.
Today, the trust offers health and safety training about asbestos and other hazards, as well as programs that promote the health of union members, like stretching before starting work.
“They talk about food, trying to get our guys to eat healthier,” Mr. Schettler said.
Len Boselovic: email@example.com or 412-263-1941.
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