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Debbie Dujanovic ReportingHealth and safety regulators will launch surprise inspections on police departments all over Utah, a direct result of our Eyewitness News investigation. OSHA says it will respond to what we uncovered -- extensive evidence of illnesses and death among officers sent into methamphetamine labs without protective equipment.
We documented as many as 45 dead or sick officers once assigned to work meth labs, exposed to toxic chemicals, not issued protective gear by their departments. Today OSHA says that was a violation.
Meth labs hit Utah hard. West Valley City had hundreds through the 80's and 90's. So we asked the police chief, a city administrator, why were officers only issued latex gloves.
Thayle Nielsen, West Valley Police Chief: “Nobody knew, could people argue you should’ve known, you could’ve known?”
Paul Isaac, West Valley Assistant Manager: “I don’t know if there was anything we could’ve done about it. I’m not sure we even knew back then there was a danger.”
Didn't know? The federal government issued a meth lab guide in the late 80's. It describes the health effects of chemical exposures, the lab safety gear officers should be issued. This manual distributed to Utah police departments in the early 90's, warned of health dangers to officers.
Charles Illsley, Former Narcotics Officer: “There is no question. Everybody knew, from the street officer to the mayors, these labs were dangerous.”
Still, local agencies only issued latex gloves for years.
Charles Illsley: “There have been hundreds of requests by police officers all over this state for protective gear, those requirements started in 1990.”
Blaine Palmer, Former SWAT Commander: “We were doing basically nothing to protect ourselves from the fumes, the chemicals.”
Police Commander Blaine Palmer wanted to minimize his Swat team's exposure -- his requests for safety gear got tossed from budgets. He now heart damage and cancer.
While they didn't step in at the time, OSHA safety inspectors say departments should've protected the officers,calling the exposures a violation of federal law. Officers requested respirators, protective clothing, chemically-resistant gloves.
Tonight, several sick officers are taking legal action against their departments: filing claims for medical and financial compensation for their exposures.