On May 13, 43 welders on the new San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge filed what could become a class action lawsuit against the Kiewit Pacific Co.-led KFM joint venture contractor and the makers of the welding equipment for exposure to toxins. The filing comes one week after a Federal Highway Administration test of pilings welds showed “excellent workmanship” on three 5.5-ft vertical shear plates that had been fingered in a call to an FBI hotline by a group of construction workers.

 The suit filed in Alameda County Superior Court named the joint venture partners, Kiewit, Inc., Flatiron Construction, Inc., and Manson Construction, Inc., in addition to Cleveland, Oh..-based Lincoln Electric Company, Inc., the manufacturer of the welding supplies, Augusta,Ga-based Thermal Ceramics Americas, the manufacturer of the ceramic material. Nathan Ballard, spokesman for Omaha, Neb.-based Kiewit, says the company does not comment on ongoing litigation.

 The suit alleges that between August 2002 and May 2005, the plaintiffs “were exposed to hazardous levels of maganese, welding fumes, grinding particulants and ceramic fibers such as Kaowool while working on cofferdams.” It says the plaintiffs suffered, “permanent neurological and physical damage, physical and mental pain and fear of future progressive medical impairment, loss of wages and earning capacity, medical expenses and loss of enjoyment of life.”

 Susan Gard, information officer, California Division of Workers' Compensation, confirmed that 15 claims were filed by 10 different employees alleging maganese exposure between Oct., 2004 and Jan., 2005. “The employer disputed the claims and it is up to the insurer to investigate,” Gard says. 

 Renee Bacchini, spokesperson for the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health, says problems were fixed and inspectors are on site weekly to ensure a safe workplace. “They have had an excellent record.”

The FBI investigation is still ongoing.