The University of Maryland (UM) in College Park, Maryland, constructed during a time when asbestos-containing materials were frequently used, has around 90 buildings on campus that still contain asbestos, despite numerous inquiries and complaints from parents.
UM’s student publication, Diamondback, reports that five of the 90 buildings infected with asbestos on campus are so dangerous that they’ve been blocked off completely from use. The other 85 buildings are still in use, and the asbestos is well-contained, according to the Director of Residential Facilities, Jon Dooley. However, parents are still concerned and call the school about asbestos issues, typically during the summer before their students move to dorms. Dooley assures parents that the dorms are safe.
“Every single residence hall is safe,” Dooley said. “We refer students to the residential facilities website if they have any questions about asbestos in their dorm.”
The majority of UM’s asbestos-containing building have the non-friable kind, meaning that exposure is minimal because the asbestos doesn’t crumble under pressure. However, the five buildings below contain friable asbestos and other hazardous materials which restrict any staff member or student from using them:
- Engineering Lab Building
- Reckord Armory
- H.J. Patterson Hall
- Mitchell Building
- Francis Scott Key Hall
According to the school’s asbestos program manager, Jennifer Rous, asbestos removal has taken place over the past several years. A number of buildings have already been renovated and are now asbestos-free. Rous said there seems to be a “downward trend” as each year passes, and the amount asbestos being removed is declining.
“There is a downward trend in the general amount of asbestos being removed. Since no more was put into buildings after the 1980s, when you stop adding it and continue removing the material, it eventually is going to go away completely.”
“Going away completely” is what many parents are hoping for, but there is still no set date as to when the campus will finally be asbestos-free. Third party contractors take care of removing the asbestos, which is primarily done at night and on the weekends, when the risk of asbestos is lessened. According to contract construction supervisor, Julius Williams, the removal follows all federal standards and takes place inside a “negative pressure containment area.”
“These are the safest projects that anyone does because of the regulations and also because people are trained to remove asbestos safely…Our asbestos management program on campus is top notch. Our third party contractors, besides being trained specifically in asbestos removal, are collecting samples before, during and after asbestos removal projects in order to ensure the safety of workers, faculty and students on campus.”
This certainly sounds like refreshing news for parents and students alike, but it’s important to note that no amount of asbestos, no matter how small, is safe. Although people are less likely to develop an asbestos-related illness when being exposed to minute amounts, there is never a guarantee. Therefore, it’s crucial that students heed all warning signs around campus when asbestos removal is taking place. Parents also have the legal right to know ahead of time when any asbestos removal will occur at the school. According to the Environmental Health News,
“It doesn’t matter who you are – young or old, strong or frail, rich or poor, factory worker or CEO – if you inhale or ingest even one microscopic asbestos fiber, you’re at increased risk of developing a deadly disease whose symptoms may not show up for decades.”
In addition, teachers need to be especially careful, as history shows that they’re more prone to developing an asbestos illness when compared to students. For example, a 2007 study carried out by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) stated that teachers in the U.S. were more than twice as likely to die from asbestos disease when compared to the average American.
This information isn’t intended to scare students are parents, as most colleges do follow state and federal laws when it comes to asbestos containment. However, you should always be aware when asbestos work is being done and take special precautions to ensure minimal risk of exposure.
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