Although not commonly used now, prior to 1980 asbestos was a standard building component. It was considered the wonder mineral: cheap, plentiful, heat resistant, and chemically resistant. For these reasons, asbestos was widely used in many building materials. Although some buildings on campus have had the asbestos removed, many asbestos-containing products remain.
If you have questions about possible asbestos materials in your work area, please contact Mary Jones at the office of Environmental Health and Safety at x7233.
Intact asbestos materials do not pose a health threat, but if the material becomes damaged or deteriorated, asbestos fibers can be released into the air and inhaled. Asbestos fibers are inhaled through the bronchial tubes to the bronchioles and are embedded in the alveoli. Exposure to elevated levels of these microscopic fibers has been linked to lung cancer and other serious health problems such as asbestosis (excessive scar tissue on the lungs that restricts breathing) and mesothelioma (cancer of the lining of the chest cavity). The odds of getting asbestos-related illness increase with the level and duration of exposure.
Recognizing Asbestos Products
Common asbestos products include floor tile, linoleum, pipe insulation, tank insulation, ceiling tiles, popcorn ceilings, textured walls, fireproofing, lab counters, fume hoods, old brake pads, roofing shingles and tar, gaskets on pipes, ovens, furnaces and other equipment.
Remember these products only pose a health risk when they are damaged and releasing asbestos fibers into the air.
Asbestos Inspection and Training
PLU Environmental Health and Safety surveys building materials before starting demolition, construction, or maintenance projects to determine where asbestos products are located.
In addition, Facilities Management monitors asbestos removal and repair to ensure that building occupants are not exposed to asbestos fibers. Environmental Health & Safety conducts periodic asbestos awareness training to help prevent accidental exposure to asbestos. Please contact Mary Jones at x7233 if you are interested in training.
The Environmental Protection Agency recommends property owners leave asbestos materials in place as long as they are not damaged. Facilities Management ensures that asbestos materials are handled in a safe manner. All suspect materials are sampled prior to renovation and demolition projects. If asbestos is identified, certified asbestos workers remove asbestos (abatement) in campus buildings before routine construction and maintenance projects to ensure that it is not accidentally damaged. In addition, to meet the goal of maintaining asbestos in good condition, trained asbestos workers repair damaged asbestos.
An asbestos warning sign will be posted at entrances to the work area. If you see this sign, do not enter the area for any reason. Only trained, authorized personnel may enter.
Possible asbestos-containing materials should not be disturbed or damaged so the fibers do not become airborne. In general:
- Do not try to repair or renovate University building space yourself. Contact Facilities Management for any repairs or renovations.
- Do not install equipment yourself that requires connection to University facilities (like pulling computer cables through ceiling or wall spaces).
- Avoid drilling through possible asbestos containing material, moving suspended ceiling tiles, abrading popcorn ceilings, cracking or scratching asbestos flooring, tearing pipe insulation, or any other action that disturbs the matrix of material that may contain asbestos.
- Call Environmental Health and Safety for an inspection before planning any project that could involve asbestos. Be careful not to damage building materials that may contain asbestos.
- Buff floors only if there is an adequate amount of finish.
- Strip floors using wet methods.
- Wash windows only if the putty is in good condition.
- When cleaning up construction debris, know the materials. If you are not sure about something, contact your supervisor.
- Always think safety first.