If you were to have a problem with asbestos or any other toxic substance in your home or on your property, you’d be lucky to have Helen Rocos on the job. The 57-year old woman takes her work, and on-the-job safety, quite seriously. Her employer did not. During the spring of 2006, Rocos was part of a handpicked crew assigned to search for remains of World Trade Center victims on the rooftop of the former Deutsche Bank building in lower Manhattan. She and her coworkers had been assured that the roof was free of asbestos (the WTC towers contained several thousand tons of the substance), but the rooftop still contained large amounts of dirt and debris from the day of the collapse. Rocos found herself wondering just how all the asbestos was removed while the rest of the debris was left untouched. While other workers wore ordinary work clothing as they dug through the debris, Rocos was taking no chances. After lunch on the first day of work, she came back wearing her respirator.
Her supervisor lashed out at her, telling her to remove the mask because she was “spooking everybody, spooking the people from the medical examiners office.” Rocos refused. Her supervisor continued to berate and harass her in front of her co-workers. “Loudmouth” and “troublemaker” were the more polite things said to Rocos. Later, in an attempt to save face, the supervisor, who was not named, suggested she compromise by wearing a cloth mask. Rocos had worked removing asbestos inside the building earlier amidst numerous safety violations, but because the job paid exceptionally well, $300 per day, she was willing to deal with it. The mask issue was too much; she walked off the job. Several days later, the EPA suspended the search for remains. Rocos was proven right: the roof had not been properly decontaminated, and asbestos fibers were present. The company for which Rocos worked refused to speak to the press, but she had something to say: “Those bosses…were too greedy or lazy or callous to care. They broke rules left and right. Their time is over.”