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Smithsonian and 27-Year Employee in Battle Over Asbestos

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After OSHA cited the museum in July, Pullman's relationship with his bosses soured. Pullman was assigned a new supervisor, and he contended that he was effectively demoted.

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The Smithsonian said Pullman was not demoted, pointing out that his compensation and terms of employment did not change.

In August, Pullman complained about work being done, without protective gear, on walls near a museum entrance.

Six days later, he received a memo from Paper after a verbal counseling session for photographing co-workers and making them uncomfortable. "No NASM employee is the asbestos police or a safety expert," Paper said in the memo.

Pullman said he took the photos after reading on the OSHA Web site that workers should document violations or workplace hazards.

According to documents filed by Pullman, Russell, the museum's safety officer, repeatedly told him, "Watch your back!"

In September, Russell blew a loud whistle behind Pullman's back.

Russell denied he did it to taunt a "whistleblower." He said in a written response to OSHA that he was testing a "model of lighted whistle for staff because it could be useful during an emergency."

In September, Pullman filed a whistleblower complaint with the Labor Department, which dismissed it. His attorneys have appealed.

As things escalated, Pullman hired Kynoch Environmental Management, a former Smithsonian contractor that occasionally works for lawyers who pursue asbestos claims.

In early October, engineer Kynoch, escorted by Pullman, collected 10 samples at the museum. One sample of dust in the Sea-Air Operations gallery tested so high that Kynoch concluded that workers clearly had been drilling into asbestos-containing walls without protective measures and that the area should be cleaned "as soon as possible."

Another sample scraped from drywall in the gallery on the second floor came back positive for 13.7 percent chrysotile, the most common form of asbestos, Kynoch found.

St. Thomas cast doubt on the Kynoch testing. "We cannot consider the report from a firm hired by an employee to be credible," she said.

In an interview, even Kynoch said the threat to the public is low "as long as there was no construction activity going on."

But that is not much comfort to Pullman.

"Here I am, 53 years old, trying to support a family, sending kids to college, trying to advance my career, on the right track," Pullman said. "Here this diagnosis is thrown in. It completely changed my world."

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