The MTA tried to dismiss worries Monday about health concerns at the Second Avenue Subway construction site after a report that high levels of an airborne carcinogen were found by federal officials.
Construction workers building the underground stations were exposed to high levels of silica, a possibly dangerous carcinogen, according to citations written by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration that were first reported by the New York Post.
Silica levels were more than three times the acceptable limit during a test conducted by OSHA in November, and workers were not adequately fitted for required face mask respirators.
Schiavone Shea Kiewit, the MTA subcontractor performing the work, was fined $8,500 for the violations.
MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz said nearby residents shouldn’t be concerned by the elevated readings.
“It’s not really an issue of the level of silica down there,” Ortiz said, “It’s that one worker was not properly fitted.”
“Silica falls to the ground, it doesn’t float in the air… That silica is not going to get to the surface,” Ortiz added. “This is something that has absolutely no impact on air quality at the street level.”
Ted Fitzgerald, a spokesman for the Department of Labor, said workers should not be in serious risk if the masks fit correctly.
“What an employer is supposed to do is keep those levels below the permissible exposure limits,” Fitzgerald said..
But if those levels are exceeded, “Generally, there’s not an immediate risk to life or health,” he said.
Assemblyman Micah Kellner (D-Manhattan), who had requested the OSHA reports, said the MTA needs to do more to keep residents and workers safe near the construction sites.
“This illustrates that corners may be being cut,” Kellner said of the citations. “I think it has gotten better, but they can always do a better job.”
The MTA will hold a previously scheduled meeting with residents impacted by the construction on Tuesday night.