Employees on some ships operated by a Houston firm are constantly exposed to asbestos dust that seeps from bulkheads and ceilings, two workers claim in a federal lawsuit filed here.
Frank Owens, 29, of Galveston and Louis Buckner, 43, of Silsbee are asking U.S. District Judge Sam Kent to keep Horizon Offshore Contractors Inc. from operating the ships until they are asbestos-free. They also want him to order the company to prevent any further exposure of workers to asbestos.
Owens still works for the company, and Buckner is a former employee.
The men asked Kent to make theirs a class action suit on behalf of perhaps thousands of people who they say could have been exposed to asbestos aboard Horizon ships since they were built about 1970.
A Horizon official on Tuesday denied the lawsuit's allegations.
Friendswood attorney Tony Buzbee, who filed the lawsuit late Monday, said Horizon did some asbestos abatement on one ship in about the past month but failed to protect its own workers during the process.
"These cleanup people showed up with suits and masks and so forth and the employees were working all around them while this asbestos dust was floating around them in the air," Buzbee said.
"The employees were not even told the abatement was going on and they still have not been told."
Buzbee said Horizon owns 13 ships, which operate in the Gulf of Mexico and other parts of the world.
"Conditions similar to this exist on some of their other vessels," he said. "I'm not sure about all of them."
William B. Gibbens III, vice president and general counsel for Horizon, said the company will "vigorously defend" itself against the lawsuit.
"Horizon's employees are its No. 1 priority, and we do our best to provide the safest work environment possible," Gibbens said in a prepared statement. "We take all lawsuits seriously and, when Mr. Buzbee contacted us and advised of his concerns about one of our vessels, we promptly retained independent consultants who confirmed a safe work environment."
Owens collected a sample of the dust that was coming out of a ship's bulkhead, and a test showed that 50 percent of it was asbestos, Buzbee said.
"The purpose of the lawsuit is to make their vessels safe for the workers," he said.
"The science of today is that even one exposure can cause eventual asbestosis or mesothelioma," Buzbee said. "The problem with asbestos is that these workers may be exposed today and not manifest symptoms for 20 years."
He said it would be in the best interests of the employees and the company to remedy the problems.
December 4, 2001