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California University Deals with Asbestos Exposure in Food Court

Sacramento State UniversityIf you were to ask college students what they thought was the most dangerous location on their campus, they would probably think of the science facilities. The chemistry building houses volatile chemicals. The physics building can have radioactive materials. The biology building is home to bacterial cell cultures. Odds are no one would say that his or her student union building, the hub of social activity, poses an asbestos exposure threat. However, more of these stories are popping up around the U.S.

Recently, I read a story in The State Hornet, which is the school paper for Sacramento State University. As part of the effort to renovate the Union building, administrators and construction workers announced that they were also implementing an asbestos abatement project.

Facilities remove ‘suspicious’ material
Ordinarily, asbestos doesn’t pose a health threat to anyone as long as it remains intact. However, construction and renovation projects can easily disturb the asbestos and release airborne mineral fibers. If inhaled, these fibers can lead to the development of potentially fatal diseases, such as malignant pleural mesothelioma and lung cancer.

At Sacramento State, the school renovated the food court of the Union building. As part of the process, workers removed floor tiles that were bonded with asbestos-laden adhesive. Technically, the asbestos didn’t have to be removed, but for the sake of safety, workers carried out this abatement project.

Here’s what Stephen Leland, the occupational safety specialist at the school, told the paper:

“Our policy is not to bury asbestos…everything that’s not metal, brick or wood is a suspect material.”

To keep the air clean, fumes were filtered and vented through the building’s east entrance. Completion of the project was projected for early June.

Presence of asbestos isn’t unique
Sacramento State isn’t the only college campus that’s had to deal with asbestos. After all, this mineral was a common component in construction materials before the 1980s.  Back in March 2013, the school paper at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kan., reported that several buildings on campus had asbestos-containing materials. At least one classroom was closed because asbestos fibers were detected, and a renovation project at the student union building raised concerns. In the latter case, asbestos was likely to be present in the ceiling tiles and roofing materials.

Schools have a responsibility to minimize risk
The fact that the occupational safety specialists at Sacramento State University fully disclosed the risks surrounding their renovation project is admirable. After all, we at Kazan Law have had to deal with many unscrupulous companies that would rather keep their consumers in the dark about asbestos.

Still, that doesn’t mean that students don’t have to be vigilant about asbestos exposure on their campus. The Environmental Resource Center for Higher Education discusses the safety standards surrounding renovation, construction and demolition projects on school grounds. These include written notification of major projects to the federal Environmental Protection Agency at least 10 days before the start, regulations regarding ventilation and the handling of materials in which asbestos fibers are likely to break apart.

Risks of Asbestos Exposure on College Campuses

asbestos_exposureWhenever people think about the dangers surrounding one’s exposure to asbestos, images of old, rundown factories or office buildings may come to mind. But in the last few months, I’ve come across at least two news articles that highlighted the presence of asbestos on college campuses.

This greatly worries us here at Kazan Law. When college students think about their futures 20 to 50 years from now, they should be picturing themselves happy in stimulating careers and not struggling with diseases such as malignant mesothelioma.

Discoveries are startling at Kansas State University
Student union buildings serve as hubs of activity on college campuses. These busy locales are where young individuals have lunch, student organizations hold their meetings and student body leaders meet with school faculty. At Kansas State University, Manhattan, people on campus were in for a rude awakening when officials discovered that the Union building, as well as other structures, contained asbestos. This led to restrictions as well as closures of certain rooms and floors.

All employees of the Union building were alerted to the danger and told that they were safe as long as no one disturbed the asbestos. Meanwhile, campus officials have to avoid making certain alterations to their surroundings, such as erecting walls that reach all the way up to the ceilings.

‘Skip the thumbtacks and nails’
Decorative posters are a natural way for college students to express themselves in their living spaces. However, last autumn, Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia warned students who were staying in some of its campus housing units that they needed to avoid using thumbtacks or nails when hanging posters or other decorative items because of the threat of asbestos exposure.

Analyses of air samples around the school indicated that students were not in any immediate danger. Still, administrators advised students on campus to use sticky adhesives to hang items on their walls.

Campuses are responsible for keeping students safe
The danger of exposure to asbestos is that mineral fibers can cause serious damage to the body’s cells if they’re inhaled or ingested. Specifically, asbestos can lead to respiratory problems and malignant diseases of the gastrointestinal tract, throat and other tissues. One reason why public health experts are concerned about asbestos is that people may not be aware they have become sick from the material until decades have passed since they were exposed. By then, it is often too late for prognoses to be hopeful.

Asbestos was a common component of products used in construction on buildings that were erected before the 1980s. Specifically, asbestos may be present in insulation, textured wall surfaces, roofing tiles, electrical equipment, cement piping and other items.

College campuses are responsible for knowing what dangers their students face when it comes to asbestos. Campus ERC, an environmental advocacy group for higher education, lists several regulations that campuses must follow during major construction and renovation projects. Among them are requirements to adhere to the National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants and communicate with the federal Environmental Protection Agency about the handling of asbestos-containing materials.

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