Navy Reopens Probe Into Asbestos Removal Work

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The U.S. Navy is reopening its investigation of a botched asbestos removal aboard an aircraft carrier to find out which members of the Navy staff were aware of the problems and what, if anything, they did about it, sources said Tuesday.

The decision followed reports that a civilian safety inspector said he had warned the Navy about the dangerous asbestos removal practices aboard the carrier Ranger, although the officer in charge of overseeing the removal had said he knew nothing about the violations.

A source with the Naval Investigative Service said the agency was reopening its files to find out whether the Navy indeed had been informed and, if so, why that information never resulted in action.

Tom Bohler, safety manager for Continental Maritime of San Diego, said Monday he investigated after employees of his company complained that workers from another company, California Marine Commercial Insulation, ripped out asbestos-covered pipes from the carrier without using safety precautions--potentially exposing hundreds of sailors to the cancer-causing fiber.

Last Friday, CMCI and company president and owner Frank Chavez pleaded guilty to failing to take adequate precautions when they removed more than 260 feet of the pipes. CMCI worked intermittently aboard the Ranger while the ship was docked at North Island Naval Station from September, 1989, to March, 1990.

Believing that the asbestos removal was improper, Bohler said he spoke to Chief Petty Officer Donna Wards, of the Supervisor of Ships Building, Conversion and Repair--the monitoring arm responsible for preparing contracts and overseeing work conducted on vessels. He wrote a memo after the conversation on Jan. 4. A copy was obtained by The Times.

"We wanted the government to be aware of it because they were also endangering the ship's sailors," Bohler said.

Bohler "gave her (Wards) details of the incident, and she informed me that she would investigate the problem," according to the memo addressed to Continental Maritime's safety department.

Reached by phone, Wards declined comment.

Capt. Vern Edwards, commanding officer of Supervisor of Ships Building, Conversion and Repair, told The Times last week that he was unaware of any problems concerning the asbestos removal.

"I have no idea about there being any problem anywhere," Edwards said at the time. "I guess my responsibility as a supervisor is to ensure to the best of our ability that what we asked for in the contract is being executed in accordance with the contract."

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