Dusty Room Causes Incurable Silicosis in College Professor: Situation has Implications for North Carolina Workers' Compensation Cases

June 12, 2009, by Michael A. DeMayo

A workers’ compensation case involving a Fine Arts and Ceramics Professor at Virginia Commonwealth University has led to an ongoing debate about building safety at the school and may lead to lawsuits in Virginia, North Carolina, and elsewhere.

Allan Rosenbaum had been working in VCU’s Fine Arts building for years, teaching crafts and ceramics. After inhaling significant quantities of fine silica dust over a period of years, Rosenbaum developed the incurable degenerative disease, silicosis. He brought a claim against VCU via Virginia’s Workers’ Compensation Commission and won disability benefits of over $210,000.

University Ignores Red Flags

Rosenbaum’s workers’ compensation suit tipped off university officials to the seriousness of the situation in the Fine Arts building. Numerous faculty members have since attested to the fact that the crafts area is — and has been — extremely dusty. Plastic sheets at one time covered ventilation screens. During kiln cleanings, massive clouds of silica dust spread out into the halls and propagated through the school’s ventilation system to other classrooms and buildings.

Rosenbaum was first diagnosed with silicosis by a colleague at VCU’s medical department, who warned school administrators of the hazards of continuing to expose faculty and students to large amounts of silica dust. VCU administrators responded by putting up notices about the dust and conducting an internal test of air quality. These tests found that dust levels were likely not dangerous; but critics of the administration retorted that the tests conducted were not accurate.

A North Carolina faculty member who had been working as a visiting professor testified that the Fine Arts building had terrible ventilation throughout his tenure at VCU.

Whether Professor Rosenbaum’s ordeal leads to other workers’ compensation claims against VCU for silicosis or other inhalation diseases is anyone’s guess. Since silicosis is a cumulative condition, individuals with the longest-term exposure to dusty conditions have the greatest risk for developing symptoms.

When dealing with workers’ compensation cases, injured parties often require strong, experienced legal help to advocate for their rights and get them appropriate compensation.

Professor Sickened by Dust, but VCU Says Facilities are Safe, Richmond Times-Dispatch, June 8, 2009

Suffering for Art, Workers Comp Insider, June 8, 2009

Related Web Resources:

Virginia Commonwealth University

Preventing Silicosis


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