Adams, Espinal Address Asbestos Concerns At MTA Bus Depot


Emotions ran high at a press event at the East New York Bus Depot Hub today as Borough President Eric Adams (D), City Council Member Rafael Espinal Jr. (D – Bushwick, East New York, Cypress Hills, and Secretary Treasurer of the Transport Workers Union Earl Philips addressed recent reporting that MTA officials have refused to alert employees for months that asbestos-lined cloth had been discovered in the building’s ventilation system and may have been contaminating the air inside for decades.

Asbestos is a deadly particle that, when inhaled, can cause cancers like mesothelioma other diseases that affect the lungs. Over 1,000 MTA employees working at the transit hub may have been exposed to airborne particles and were not warned after asbestos was discovered lining the air ducts last winter. BP Adams called the situation “unacceptable”.

“One thousand men and women who are here in this depot should not have to experience the dangers of asbestos,” Adams told reporters and MTA employees who had gathered to learn what to expect now that the safety of their workplace had been deemed compromised. 

Some MTA employees openly wept as they were made aware at how dangerous the working conditions at the transit hub have been. They understand that the risk of exposure could be high, especially since many have been working at the East New York hub for over a decade. 

City Councilmember Rafael Espinal Jr. also decried the asbestos found at the depo. Photo by Owen Maldonado.

Adams called for an independent investigation of the incident, and insisted that any known asbestos should be removed from all transit facilities in an expedited fashion. He also urged the MTA to allow all employees and East NY residents in the immediate area who might be experiencing symptoms of lung illness to volunteer to undergo testing and be monitored for asbestos-related illnesses.

“This is more than a problem for one depot,” said Adams. “This is environmental injustice. It is unfair, unhealthy, and beneath the dignity of the people in this community.”

Espinal joined Adams in calling on the MTA to ensure the rights of their employees while dealing with the issue. “We shouldn’t be here talking about the health of our workers. That should be a given right.” 

A MTA spokesperson would not comment on the press conference today, but referred to an MTA Transit committee meeting on Monday, where Craig Cipriano, the MTA Bus Company Acting President, stated that “undisturbed, asbestos does not provide any health risk,” and made claims that after an independent investigation was concluded on August 15th, airborne asbestos levels in the facility were reported to be “below detectable limits and safe”.

Wast New York MTA Bus Depot workers outside their work station. Photo by Owen Maldonaldo.

These claims were disputed today by the TWU Secretary Treasurer Earl Philips, who says the MTA wants to avoid accepting responsibility for their inaction. “There is asbestos in this building. We will not say it differently.” He further refuted the MTA, noting that the asbestos had already been disturbed when it was removed for testing. 

Espinal and Adams both agree that the MTA’s problem with asbestos is only one facet of a much larger problem in the area. Espinal made claims that the local and state governments are “not making investments in the right parts of our city,” echoing Adams’ concerns that the issue at hand is part of an ongoing pattern in East New York.

Adams had earlier expressed frustration that buildings and transit facilities in East NY and other working-class neighborhoods are not held to the same stringent standards as their counterparts in Manhattan. 

“We need to ask the question: are we treating the residents in this community differently than we’re treating the residents in other parts of the city?” he said.