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Asbestos across campus: the real deal

by Tori Martinez - Managing Editor
Tue, Sep 26th 2017 11:00 pm

Like many buildings on The College at Brockport campus, Mortimer Hall still has asbestos within its walls, floors and ceilings. While the idea of asbestos may concern some students who live in the dorm, director of Environmental Health and Safety Chris Bazzie says it’s not an issue worth worrying about; any asbestos left from Mortimer’s original construction is unharmful to the students who reside there.

Asbestos is a mineral fiber found in rock and soil, used primarily during the Industrial Revolution as a building material and fire retardant. According to asbestos.com, its use became widespread due to its resistance to chemicals, malleable properties and it’s ability to serve as an insulator for steam engines, turbines, boilers and ovens. It wasn’t until the early 1900s that people started to recognize the dangers of being exposed to asbestos. People began being diagnosed with two rare forms of lung disease, both linked back to asbestos exposure: asbestosis and mesothelioma. After the truth about asbestos came out, the mineral was taken out of building and insulating materials.

Bazzie says the most important thing to know about asbestos is that it is not dangerous unless damaged or disturbed. He explains there are two types of asbestos-containing materials (ACMs): friable and nonfriable. Friable ACMs can easily be crumbled by human hand, kind of like a cookie, and exposure to the powder or dust can be dangerous. Non-friable ACMs are safer and are made from any solid material, like a tabletop.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports on its website, “In general, exposure may occur only when the asbestos-containing material is disturbed or damaged in some way to release particles and fibers into the air.”

However, non-friable ACMs can become friable if other materials in them have broken down due to age and weather, or during any sort of demolition or renovation where the asbestos will be released.

Bazzie currently has a list of areas in Mortimer that have been tested within the past 10 years for asbestos. Anytime renovations are being done on part of the building, Bazzie checks the list to make sure they’re not disturbing asbestos. If renovations involving asbestos are necessary, there is a series of instructions under the New York State Department of Labor that the college must follow, in accordance with Industrial Code Rule 56.

Bazzie noted that anyone who is doing construction on something that contains asbestos must have the proper training that allows them to handle it safely. This includes what Bazzie called “containment areas”, where the contactors put up large plastic sheets so as not to release any of the toxins. Depending on the size of the job, they may use negative air machines to contain the asbestos, which is pretty much a fan with filters that pull air into the containment area instead of pushing it out. Unless the renovations are an emergency or small, the college is required to post a sign with 10 days notice that construction involving asbestos is going to occur.

These are the procedures the college uses when making renovations on Mortimer, and will continue to do so.

“We’re truly not worried about asbestos as an issue for students who live there,” Bazzie said. “If we had any reason to believe students were in harm’s way, they would not be living there. I would feel comfortable living in the residencies as far as asbestos goes.”

Bazzie says that if anyone is still concerned about the asbestos in Mortimer and the safety and health of its students, they can reach out to him or someone within the Office of Environmental Health and Safety by calling 395-2408.

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