From the November 2006 Idaho Observer:

Capitol Hill and Supreme Court: Rotting at the core

There is little disagreement among those who have been to Capitol Hill: The buildings are magnificent and are perpetually kept in good repair. But itís merely a facade. Aboveground no expense is spared to maintain the image of majestic splendor in our nationís capital; yet out of sight and underground, Capitol Hill is rotting at its core because shortsighted D.C. bureaucrats prioritize appearances over structural integrity.

National Public Radio broadcast a story about the toxic deterioration of the 100-year-old tunnel system beneath Capitol Hill October 23, 2006. It was reported that Architect of the Capitol (AoC) Alan Hantman has known since 1999 that 1,000-pound chunks of concrete were falling from the ceilings of the five-mile network of tunnels delivering utilities to several buildings on Capitol Hillóincluding the Capitol Hill building itself, the U.S. Supreme Court building and Union Stationóbut chose to do nothing.

The story originally broke March 28, 2006, in the article "Hazards Beneath the Capitol" by Jackie Kucinich. The falling concrete exposed asbestos-encased pipes. The 10-man tunnel crew was being exposed to extremely high levels of carcinogenic asbestos "lying so thick on the ground that it can be scooped up in handfuls," Kucinich reported.

Repeated requests by the tunnel crew to test asbestos levels were denied by the AoC. The NPR story revealed that several members of the crew now suffer chronic lung diseases from their long-term exposure to levels of asbestos that far exceed regulatory standards enforced by OSHA. Most asbestos-related lung diseases are generally regarded as terminal.

Poetic ironies abound

Almost no one ever ventures into the dank tunnel system that can reach temperatures of 160 degrees F. Monies budgeted by the AoC for tunnel repair and maintenance have been diverted into other, above-ground projects like a womenís restroom. After years of conscious neglect, the tunnels had become so unsafe that Capitol Hill police no longer patrolled them and eight of 15 escape hatches were inoperative. Repeated attempts to pull Hantman off his aboveground redecorating duties to shore up the crumbling foundations of our nationís capital were unsuccessful until the crew wrote a letter to the Office of Compliance (OC) which filed a complaint against the AoC. The complaint produced a comprehensive report revealing that the tunnel system was in such disrepair and the air quality so toxic that Congress appropriated $28 million to renovate the infrastructure and abate the asbestos. Estimates on completing the work range to upwards of $200 million.

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