UPDATE: Read House owner says asbestos investigation issues resolved

UPDATE: Read House owner says asbestos investigation issues resolved

February 12th, 2018 by Mike Pare in Breaking News

The historic Read House hotel is located on MLK Boulevard in between Broad and Chestnut Streets in downtown Chattanooga.

Photo by John Rawlston /Times Free Press.

UPDATE: TOSHA released the following statement Tuesday:  

"Inside a building the age of The Read House OSHA standards require the owner to assume pipe insulation and other building materials contain asbestos and any work with these materials be conducted in a specific manner to assure employees are protected.  A survey of the building did discover some pipe insulation contained asbestos.  The material was in a pipe chase that guests would not be exposed to.  The presence of this material is very common in buildings constructed during the time the Read House was constructed. 

Tennessee OSHA determined personnel working inside The Read House did not approach maintenance activities with the presumption of the presence of asbestos.  The necessary precautions, as required by OSHA standards, were not taken and Tennessee OSHA issued citations and penalties as a result.  Tennessee OSHA did not document actual employee exposure to asbestos. 

The owners of The Read House did not admit to any wrongdoing, but agreed to accept the findings in the interest of settling the inspection with Tennessee OSHA.  They agreed to correct each of the items cited and comply with the standards going forward. 

During the conference with the employer, Tennessee OSHA deleted a recordkeeping violation, and associated $500 penalty, for failure to provide the OSHA 300 injury and illness log within 4 hours and reduced the fine for the remaining 11 violations from $4,000 to $3,510."

ORIGINAL STORY: The Read House's owners said Monday they and state environmental officials have resolved issues related to an asbestos investigation and that citations have been downgraded to "other than serious."

The Tennessee Occupational Safety & Health Administration (TOSHA) agreed to eliminate one citation, downgraded all remaining citations, and also reduced fines, according to the property's ownership group.

TOSHA agreed that all citations have been addressed and abated by the Read House and there's no liability on the part of hotel or its owners, the group said.

Jon Weitz, owner and president of Avocet Hospitality Group which operates the Read House hotel, said there has been a lot of confusion and misinformation concerning what prompted the investigation.

"Now that this is resolved, we can definitively state that there was never any claim or finding that anyone was ever injured or exposed to asbestos at the Read House hotel," he said in a statement. "There is a big difference between 'actual' asbestos and 'presumed' asbestos. There is nothing to indicate that anyone was actually exposed."

Chris Cannon, the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development's communications director, said TOSHA would have a comment today.

Last year, state regulators said they were investigating employee complaints about exposure to asbestos at the Read House in downtown Chattanooga during a $20 million makeover. TOSHA launched an on-site probe after an employee at the historic hotel complained on Aug. 17 that repairs and upgrades at the hotel were releasing asbestos into the air. Asbestos is the primary cause of mesothelioma cancer and is banned in more than 50 countries.

In January, TOSHA documents showed the hotel was cited for 12 violations, 11 of which were categorized as serious. The hotel was being fined a total of $4,500 for three of the violations, and the others do not include a fine, according to documents.

TOSHA said workers were not adequately protected and supervised for demolition and construction work at the 92-year-old hotel, which was built on the site of the historic Crutchfield House that dates back to the Civil War.

The 241-room hotel, like many older buildings, used asbestos for insulation. Asbestos is the primary cause of mesothelioma cancer and is banned in more than 50 countries.

Tammy Sprouse of Marion Environmental, based in Chattanooga, said Monday that it's important for the public to know the company finds asbestos in almost every historic building in which it has worked.

"The owners of the hotel retained us so that any asbestos will be removed by a certified and state accredited asbestos firm. The removal is being performed according to EPA and OSHA regulations. The Chattanooga/Hamilton County Air Pollution Board approved the required notification prior to the current demolition and construction activities," she said.

The Read House renovation is underway and any asbestos materials discovered is being removed in strict compliance with TOSHA requirements, according to the ownership group.

The current schedule calls for the Read House to completely reopen late this summer.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318.


This story was updated Feb. 13, 2018, at 2:47 p.m. with a statement from TOSHA.


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