Smithsonian Institution Failed to Contain Asbestos Dust — Says Worker

Suffering from asbestosis, Richard Pullman sought to warn the public about his employer who he alleges knew about the presence of the asbestos 16 years before workers were told about it. However, he claims to have been penalized by his employer for being a whistleblower. Pullman’s employer is the Smithsonian Institution, and the building in question is the popular National Air and Space Museum.
The Smithsonian says that it did not discipline Pullman for blowing the whistle, but it did acknowledge that it did know about the asbestos in 1992, but it did not train its employees of its presence until 2008, when Pullman filed his complaint.

Pullman’s report seemed to have put the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) into action; the department gave the Smithsonian a citation for being in violation of three separate federal asbestos regulations.

Pullman had voiced his concerns about the construction on the National Air and Space Museum that might release asbestos dust into the air. He asked management for the construction area to be better sealed off, but even after the employees of the museum were given a training course in safe practices around asbestos in March 2008, Pullman said that unsafe conditions were still being used around the asbestos at the construction site.

Fearing for his own health and that of others, Pullman sent emails to management, filed complaints with OSHA, and sent letters to Congress. He was called the “asbestos police” by colleagues, and shortly after his reports were filed against the Smithsonian, he claimed that he was given a formal reprimand for failing to properly follow asbestos reporting procedures, was denied a raise and promotion, and was lowered in rank to a lower level manager.

The Smithsonian countered that Pullman still maintained the same position and pay as the day before he filed the complaints, but his reassignment was due to a reorganization of the staff.

The Smithsonian discovered that there were asbestos in the outer walls of the National Air and Space Museum after testing was done in 1992, but due to communication breakdowns, the staff was not notified until March 2008.