Facing asbestos danger

Oswego State students live with asbestos every day. It’s in their rooms, their common areas and their classrooms.

"There are many buildings all over campus that have asbestos because of the year that they were built," said Rick Kolenda, director of Resident Life and Housing. "There is asbestos in almost every building that hasn’t been renovated."

Still, Kolenda said the asbestos is contained and can not enter students’ bodies. Liz Burns, interim director of Mary Walker Health Center, said the asbestos on campus probably will not affect students.

"Generally, we don’t see it at this age," Burns said. "[For] people who work with construction or plumbing, it shows up later in life."

Asbestos has been known to cause mesothelioma, lung cancer and asbestosis. It was used as a fire-retardant construction material in the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s before being banned in the 1990s. According to the Oswego website, 29 on-campus buildings were built during the ‘60s, including Scales Hall and Waterbury Hall, where students live side-by-side with the carcinogen.

"Asbestos, when you think about it, is actually really scary," said Zach Davis, director of Scales Hall.

Davis said pipes in Scales contain asbestos. The pipes run through the rooms at the ends of each wing in Waterbury and Scales.

"Some of the general building materials that may contain asbestos include nine-by-nine floor tile, spray-on fireproofing, joint compound and mudded people joints," said Eric Foertch, campus director of Environmental Health and Safety.

However, asbestos is only a danger when it is moved or disturbed; otherwise, the flame retardant is relatively safe.

"They wouldn’t be there if they were a hazard," Kolenda said.

Davis added that common sense is enough for a student living near asbestos to avoid most dangers.

"I’m not going to go run around licking the pipes and punching them," Davis said.

The college is obligated to inform students if asbestos is in their room, so they do not bang on pipes and cause asbestos dust to get into the air, said Tom Gallauresi, director of asbestos training at Churchill Environmental Inc. in Syracuse.

R.A.s are trained to spot signs and symptoms of asbestos-related diseases, Kolenda said. Robert Lehmann has been living in a room with an asbestos pipe, but said he is not worried.

"It is not supposed to do anything unless you break the pipe open and it is painted over with 30,000 coats of paint," the Scales resident said. "I’m not dead yet."

The law states that buildings, even residences, are permitted to have asbestos. However, the asbestos must be intact and not crumbling. Otherwise it could become airborne and could be inhaled.

This summer, Mackin and Sheldon Halls removed some of their asbestos, but this is not typical, Foertch said. When new fire alarm systems were put into those buildings, asbestos fibers appeared during drilling. Foertch said a steam pipe leak in Moreland Hall revealed asbestos that had to be removed.

Oswego State does not remove the asbestos unless it is an immediate hazard or they are doing construction.

"If we do anything [construction] then we test for asbestos," Foertch said. "Quite often, it is negative."

The price of removing asbestos can get very costly very quickly, Gallauresi said.

"On average for a pipe, it is about 35 to 50 dollars per linear foot," he said. "So a 10-foot pipe is about $500."

Going forward, the campus will have to deal with its asbestos problem as more buildings are renovated and asbestos is unearthed.

"Before renovations are conducted, building surveys are completed to identify asbestos," Foertch said. "It is removed by a New York State certified abatement contractor and verified by a third-party monitor."

Asbestos is a highly durable mineral fiber; it was treated as a great boom to the construction industry until the flame retardant’s adverse health effects were discovered. Any building built between the post World War II era and the 1980s potentially holds asbestos.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned asbestos products in 1989 but the ruling was overturned in 1991. The overturning banned specific asbestos products, rather than all asbestos products, and no new asbestos products can be released.