Asbestos on campus, should students worry?

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All of the buildings on campus likely contain asbestos despite people falsely believing the material is banned, Shane Garrett, health and safety officer, said. 

Garrett said asbestos can be found in floor tiles and mastics, a construction adhesive, used on stainless steel sinks, carpet and baseboard. 

“The only place I have actually found asbestos-containing ceiling tile is in the environmental research office behind Seaton Hall,” Garrett said. “We have samples going all the way back to prior to 1990. So we have a vast database on where we found asbestos.”

One risk of asbestos exposure is asbestosis, a chronic lung disease caused by inhaling asbestos fibers. The main concern of asbestosis is lung tissue scarring. This leads to shortness of breath and stiff lungs that cannot contract and expand normally.

Despite the abundance of asbestos on campus, Garrett said students going about their daily activities are not at risk. 

“It’s only dangerous when it’s been ground into a powder or dust through mechanical means like sawing, grinding, chipping or other forms of abrasion,” Garrett said. “Asbestos is a natural occurring mineral fiber that has aero-dynamic properties that will allow it to float in the air for days.”

Colt Hahn, junior in agricultural education, said he expects there to be asbestos in old buildings on campus.

“There’s a lot of old buildings here,” Hahn said. “So probably a lot more than a newer campus, but not overwhelming.”

Garrett said asbestos at K-State is only in the air during renovations, such as taking out walls or removing windows. Special precautions are taken when renovating spaces containing asbestos.

“We build airtight containments so that the asbestos fibers cannot migrate from the work area into the general public,” Garrett said. “We always put up what we call critical seals, which will cover windows, doors, air vents.”

Lisa Linck, occupational safety manager at K-State, said there are special qualifications workers must have before dealing with asbestos.

“There is licensing or certification that the workers take,” Linck said.

Garrett said there are K-State staff who have this certification, but some projects are contracted out.

“The staff does what we call operation and maintenance work, which is small scale, short duration, replacing a few floor tiles,” Garrett said. “If we have a larger project, then we call in an outside contractor …”

Garrett teaches a class on asbestos awareness. He said the class will be short, informational and entertaining. The next class is on Feb. 2. 

Linck said the class gives an overview of what asbestos is and where it is on campus.

“We would encourage people, both students and faculty, to attend the training,” Linck said.

Participants may register through HRIS Self-Service or email Megan Eakin at learning-develop-hr@k-state.edu according to K-State today.

Linck said anyone concerned about asbestos can contact the Department of Environmental Health and Safety.

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