If 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.