MORGANTOWN – West Virginia University will set up a 20-year program to guard the health of employees it may have exposed to dangerous levels of asbestos.

University trustees have agreed to provide initial examinations and pay for continued monitoring when it is medically advisable.

The agreement settles a five-year-old Kanawha County class action lawsuit. Circuit Judge Tod Kaufman has set a Dec. 22 hearing to approve the agreement.

Most employees who worked full time for five years at the university's Morgantown campus since 1986 will qualify for the program.

The agreement excludes executives, administrators and managers. It also excludes anyone already diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease.

The university already runs a monitoring program for employees whose work relates to asbestos, under a mandate of the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Employees in the OSHA program, designated as Group A in the agreement, can remain in the OSHA program and receive extra services from the new program.

The agreement designates a "potential exposure" class as Group B. That group will automatically qualify for continued monitoring.

Service workers, maintenance workers and trade specialists in heating, ventilating and air conditioning will belong to Group B if they worked two years in the Coliseum, the Law Center, the Creative Arts Center, Health Sciences or Allen and Percival Halls.

Group B also will include plumbers, electricians, carpenters, bricklayers, sheet metal workers and telecommunications technicians with at least five years in their trades.

Everyone else will fall into Group C. The agreement states that, "For the vast majority of Group C, ongoing medical surveillance will not be offered."

An independent industrial hygienist will review information on Group C members and determine which ones require surveillance.

The agreement states that, "All class members will have the opportunity at the outset of the program to undergo a comprehensive occupational and pulmonary medical history questionnaire and examination with a health care professional."

It states that, "Each class member, after being informed of the benefits and dangers of the procedures, will have the right to a pulmonary function test and examination with a health care professional."

"The initial examination in part serves a medical purpose, but also in part is intended to address the mental anxiety, if any, of the class members," it states.

When an examination yields a positive diagnosis of disease, the university will send results and recommendations to the patient's primary care physician.

Those with positive diagnoses can stay in the program or leave it. Their physicians will provide medication and treatment.

The agreement does not obligate the university to pay further expenses for the care and treatment of anyone with asbestos related illness.

The university has committed to 20 years of monitoring, but it can stop the program after 12 years if it has not found significant asbestos-related disease.

In addition to paying for the program, the university will pay $1 million – the limit of its insurance – for legal expenses, attorney's fees and other costs.

The lead plaintiff in the Kanawha County suit, David Sturms, sued in 2000. Judge Kaufman last year certified Sturms to represent a class of plaintiffs.

Attorneys Robert Sweeney of Cleveland, Patrick Jacobs of Charleston and Gary Rich of Morgantown negotiated the agreement for the plaintiff class.

Attorneys Stephen Fowler and Keith Gamble of Charleston represented the university.

Any class member who does not wish to enter the program must mail a request for exclusion, postmarked no later than Dec. 20, to Sweeney at 55 Public Square, Suite 1500, Cleveland, OH 44113.

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