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Coakley seeks relocation of employees due to asbestos

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- Middlesex District Attorney Martha Coakley has asked the state to relocate all of her employees out of the county courthouse building that has been found to contain potentially dangerous asbestos.

On Wednesday, an occupational health specialist toured the 30-year-old, 22-story building and found asbestos in numerous locations, prompting Coakley to seek the relocation of her 70 to 80 employees in the building.

"I'm not going to play Russian roulette with employee's health and safety," she said.

State officials first raised concerns about asbestos when the building was erected in 1969, but the issue has resurfaced in recent months because the state planned to remove the material from the building's elevator shafts while employees remained in the building. The removal was part of a $14.3 million building renovation.

David B. Perini, head of the state division that oversees government properties, and Robert A. Mulligan, the trial court's chief justice for administration and management, issued a statement on Thursday saying that tests carried out in October showed no problems with asbestos at the courthouse.

"We would not be proceeding with the project if we though that it would risk the health and safety of the building occupants and those who visit the building," the statement said.

On Wednesday, Dr. L. Christine Oliver, an occupational medicine expert hired by a lawyer representing some employees, toured the building and concluded that asbestos should be removed.

Oliver said most employees in the building most likely were exposed to "very low levels" of airborne asbestos, though maintenance workers and other trades people were probably exposed to higher levels.

The building houses about 130 superior court employees, 80 district court employees, and at least 150 employees of the Cambridge jail. 

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