By Radhika Viswanathan
Published: February 21st, 2018
It’s hard to miss the signs posted around campus notifying students of asbestos abatement projects. Most recently, they have been displayed on doors in the Library Café, Ingersoll Hall, Whitehead Hall, Boylan Hall, and Whitman Theatre, causing many students to be worried about the health consequences of these abatement projects—after all, everyone has seen those mesothelioma advertisements listing the dangers of asbestos over ominous music.
According to Francis Fitzgerald, Brooklyn College’s assistant vice president of facilities planning and operations, there are no asbestos abatement projects currently happening.
So why the notices?
Due to guidelines by the Office of Environmental Health and Safety, these notices must be placed for the entire duration of any construction project, of which the actual asbestos removal might only be a small portion.
“For instance, an abatement notice posted on June 1 may require work to be completed by Oct. 31, but the actual work takes three days and is completed by Sept. 1,” Fitzgerald wrote in an email. “It’s very project-dependent.”
The amount of time it requires to remove the asbestos depends on how complex the project is, and can range from one day to several weeks.
Asbestos is a generic name for group of minerals that resist heat and corrosion very well, and therefore used to be very popular for construction projects. However, these minerals turned out to be serious health hazards; they have tiny fibers that, when directly breathed in, cause scar tissue in the lungs. This scarring leads to decreased lung function and can even cause lung cancer. When this cancer affects the mesothelial tissue, which lines several of your organs, it is called mesothelioma.
According to the United States Department of Occupational Safety and Health Administration, “Asbestos exposures as short in duration as a few days have caused mesothelioma in humans.”
In 1989, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a ban on asbestos use. However, because asbestos is only dangerous when directly inhaled, asbestos that is already safely contained in construction is not generally removed.
“Wholesale removal of all asbestos-containing building materials is not our objective nor is it recommended by anyone in the field of health and safety,” Fitzgerald wrote in an email. “If asbestos-containing material is in good condition, it is safest to leave it in place.”
The Office of Environmental Health and Safety at Brooklyn College monitors asbestos conditions on campus. And when buildings on campus undergo construction or repair that would disturb these contained minerals, third-party firms are contracted to remove the asbestos and measure the air around these construction projects to ensure that there are no fibers.
The office’s website lists all precautions that are taken when these projects worked on; for example, contractors use a “negative air” machine that suctions the air through special filters that remove all asbestos particles. As a result of these measures, they declare that it is safe to be in a building while abatement is happening.
Long story short, if you see asbestos abatement notices, there’s no need to pull out a mouth mask.