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Asbestos on Campus

Typical asbestos containing sprayed-on ceiling material found throughout campus.

Over the past several years there has been discussion about asbestos containing materials (ACM) in CU buildings and the possible hazard they may pose to building occupants. Although various diseases have been linked with industrial exposure to airborne asbestos, the presence of asbestos in a building does not mean that the health of building occupants is necessarily endangered. As long as ACM remains in good condition and is not disturbed, exposure is unlikely. However, when building maintenance, repair, renovation, or other activities disturb ACM, asbestos fibers can be released creating a potential hazard to building occupants. The purpose of this informational letter is to educate the University community about asbestos and what steps the Department of Environmental Health and Safety (EH&S) is taking to properly manage ACM.

What is Asbestos?

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that is distinguished from other minerals by the fact that its crystals form long, thin fibers. It typically has a white, chalk-like appearance but can often have different colors and textures or may be mixed into a material and not readily visible. In use since the first century by the Greeks and Romans, asbestos gained widespread use because it was readily available, low in cost, and because of its unique properties; it does not burn, it is strong, it is a poor conductor of heat and electricity, and is impervious to chemical corrosion.

Asbestos has been used in literally hundreds of products. Many of these products are present on campus such as wall plaster, wallboard, floor tile, ceiling tile, roofing shingles, fireproofing material, acoustical insulation, boiler and pipe insulation, electrical insulation, window putty, blackboards, laboratory gloves, bench tops, fume hoods, and automobile brake linings – the list is almost endless. ACM is of greatest concern when it is friable (capable of being crumbled, pulverized, or reduced to powder by hand pressure) or is physically disturbed by drilling, sanding, grinding, scraping, breaking, or any other abrasive or destructive activity. This is when asbestos has the greatest chance of becoming airborne and being inhaled by building occupants.

Most of the information on the health effects of exposure to airborne asbestos has been derived from studies of workers in the asbestos industry. Asbestos fiber concentrations for such workers were many times higher than those encountered by the general public, or by most workers in building with ACM. Diseases found to occur due to high exposures of airborne asbestos are lung cancer, asbestosis (scarring of the lung), and mesothelioma (cancer of the abdominal wall). Because of the efforts of EH&S, the chance of exposure to high levels of airborne asbestos while on campus is minimal.

Asbestos Management at CU

The current philosophy for asbestos management at CU is to make it possible for persons in the University community to safely coexist with asbestos containing materials in campus buildings while executing a program of removal as renovation occurs or as funds become available. The cost of asbestos removal is very high which requires that the University take a long-term approach toward elimination of all asbestos.

Asbestos management on campus is performed by the EH&S Asbestos Crew. They are responsible for identifying the location of ACM on campus, affecting repairs of ACM when damage has occurred, coordinating and overseeing the removal of ACM by private contractors, and monitoring the status of ACM in-place in order to protect public health. All personnel in this division have received extensive training in their field and posses certifications from the State of Colorado that must be renewed annually through additional training and testing. The EH&S Asbestos Crew works closely with building maintenance personnel, outside contractors, building occupants, and regulatory agencies to ensure that asbestos-related activities are performed safely, legally, and with the least disruption to University operations.

Most aspects of campus asbestos management are mandated by Colorado Regulation 8 which is enforced by the Colorado Department of Health. Other regulations covering asbestos by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), and EH&S are also enforced on campus. One very important standard under Regulation 8 is the Maximum Allowable Asbestos Level (MAAL). This is the standard for the maximum amount of airborne asbestos allowed in public areas and is set at 70 structures per square millimeter or 0.01 fibers per cubic centimeter. EH&S monitors the air in buildings where asbestos removal projects are occurring, whenever ACM has the potential to be disturbed, or in the event disturbance has happened in order to ensure the MAAL is not exceeded.

What You Can Do

It is the responsibility of all persons on campus to avoid damaging ACM whenever possible. Unless you have a written report from the EH&S Asbestos Crew indicating a material does not contain asbestos, the most prudent approach is to consider all building materials and miscellaneous materials mentioned earlier as ACM and treat them as such. Avoid any activity such as drilling, sanding, grinding, scraping, breaking, or any other abrasive or destructive activity which might release asbestos fibers into the air. If you have a project or work activity which will disturb any building materials, contact the EH&S Asbestos Crew at x26168 or x26025 for instructions on how to proceed. You should also contact the EH&S Asbestos Crew if you notice debris as a result of damage to building systems or materials which you think might be ACM. EH&S will dispatch personnel to the site to assess the situation and take whatever action is necessary to protect public health and the environment.

EH&S can provide a short awareness seminar to acquaint you with the hazards associated with asbestos and answer any questions you may have about its use and how it is managed at CU. This seminar can be arranged by contacting the EH&S Asbestos Crew at x26168 or x26025.

Because of its widespread use and natural occurrence, we cannot totally avoid exposure to asbestos. The air of congested cities and metropolitan areas contains asbestos, and fibers have been found in the lungs and tissues of the general population. However, the University does not want to add to this naturally occurring exposure and our goal is to avoid asbestos fiber release whenever possible. Through a well-coordinated program of asbestos management staffed with highly qualified personnel, EH&S has reduced the risk of exposure to the University community and will continue to do so for years to come. Do not hesitate to contact us with any of your health and safety concerns.