Asbestos in Sturm no cause for concern

Over the last two weeks, DU Facilities Management has been working alongside an environmental consulting firm to replace asbestos-contaminated carpets and floor tiles on the third and fourth floors of Sturm Hall.

Most of the flooring in Sturm has tested positive for asbestos, according to Herron.

“It’s typical of any institution: when asbestos would impact material, it has to be removed in a certain way,” says Lennie Herron, an industrial hygienist and also president and CEO of Herron Enterprises.

According to Herron, the floor tile in the third and fourth floor was composed of six percent asbestos, while the mastic (what holds the floor and carpet together) was about 15 percent.

“We had six to eight works areas,” says Herron. “We had urgent areas at the start of the project.”

Freshman Melanie Kesner was surprised to learn about what was going on.

“I have classes on the third and fourth floor [of Sturm]; the fact that it’s there freaks me out a little bit.”

The clean team

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, “Asbestos is a mineral fiber that has been used commonly in a variety of building construction materials for insulation and as a fire-retardant.” Asbestos is usually used in construction, but is also used for materials like car brakes and insulation.

The asbestos removal process, called abatement, involves several steps.

“Everything is wetted, removed, bagged, and then we do the final clean,” says Herron. “All surfaces are wiped down; once we clear it, area becomes deregulated.”

The wet removal involved treating asbestos contaminated surfaces with amended water, making it more difficult for the fibers to get airborne. Under his supervision, carpet, floor and mastic were removed and double-bagged in 55-gallon bags. They then attached generator labels to the bag, indicating they came from DU. The materials were then brought out of containment and sent to two different dumpsters: one for carpeting and one for asbestos waste.

“Once the abatement is done, my team goes in, and, by regulation, makes sure it’s free of dust and debris,” says Herron. “We run aggressive tests as if it’s the worst possible scenario and use leaf blowers to aggravate air particles. We also have a five sample clearance; if one is contaminated, we have to do the whole thing over again.”

Removal tried and true at DU

Director of Facilities Management Jeff Beleman says abatement projects at DU are usually driven by renovation or reconstruction.

“We made changes to the architecture of the building, and that impacts the floor. We have a rule at the university: instead of ignoring or burying [asbestos], we abate it. It’s a problem to leave in place and work around, which is why you just can’t do it.”

Asbestos usage picked up during the Industrial Revolution, popular for its fireproof and chemical-proof properties. It was finally outlawed in 1989 in the EPA’s Asbestos Ban and Phase Out Rule due to public health concerns.

Sturm Hall was built in 1969, 20 years before asbestos was finally outlawed. Nine-by-nine inch tiles like the ones found in Sturm have usually been used alongside asbestos.

“A lot of pipes from older, turn of the century buildings used asbestos insulation around steam pipes,” says Beleman. “Every time we had a repair we couldn’t rip it off. It’s not a new process.”

The university doesn’t have a staff that handles abatement projects, but hires independent contractors like Herron when the situations arise.

Herron and his team have also been working on abatement projects in Penrose. “The project that has just kicked off is to get rid of the remainder of fireproofing in the mechanical rooms and stair towers.”

“We call someone like Lennie out, and we dispose of [asbestos] in a controlled manner, all the way to the point of landfilling approved by the EPA.”

Rumors vs. reality

According to the Department of Energy, HEPA (High-Efficiency Particulate Air) filters must catch 99.97 percent of fibers at least 0.3 microns in length.

“We use HEPA filters and place them under negative pressure, which means that air is being drawn in,” says Herron. “Once the air is filtered down to a level that is regulatory, we exhaust the negative air outside the building.”

Herron also makes sure his workers are sufficiently protected and protect others when leaving the contaminated zone.

“Wearing suits and regulators is regular,” says Herron. “We have a proper process of decontamination when they come out of the area. The idea is minimize exposure during that abatement; if there was a breach, fiber release has been minimized.”

“If you’re up there scraping it off without protection, it’s not a very smart thing,” adds Beleman.

Contrary to popular belief, asbestos, if left alone, is not a health hazard. The only time asbestos presents a problem is when it’s friable—broken up into fine dust particles. Non-friable asbestos is asbestos that isn’t going to go airborne.

“Asbestos is such a durable material; it can literally last the life of the building,” says Herron. “At the time that they discovered it in early 1900s, no one knew that if you didn’t treat it properly it could be a hazard to you.”

Student feedback not friendly

 In spite of the fact that undisturbed asbestos isn’t harmful, students still have concerns.

“I feel like if we’re paying this much money to go to a school, we shouldn’t have to pay medical bills for the cancer that we’re getting,” says Wendy Low, a freshman at DU.

“I don’t want cancer metastasizing in my lungs,” adds Melanie Kesner.

Breathing in large amounts of asbestos fibers can lead to lung cancer and mesothelioma. However, low levels of asbestos are present in the air we breathe, ranging from 0.0001 to 0.00001 fibers per milliliter of air, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

“We didn’t want to interfere with current schedules,” says Herron. “It was supposed to be very out of the way.”

“We know where the problems are, and so does the staff,” says Beleman. “But we also stop and walk away and answer policy questions is people have them.

When anyone did have questions, though, they usually weren’t about the project.

“It was more so, ‘How do I get to room such and such?’” says Herron. “I didn’t see concerns with participants of this project.”





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