A recent article in the Daily Tarheel, the student newspaper at the University of North Carolina, discusses the health risk – or lack thereof – for students who live in seven residence halls that have been found to contain asbestos in pipes, walls and ceilings. The article quotes both students and faculty members, and appears to conclude that the presence of asbestos-containing products is not an immediate health hazard. Unfortunately, such a conclusion may be erroneous.
The article quotes the director of the University’s Department of Environment, Health and Safety, who correctly states that only “friable” asbestos poses an immediate hazard. Friable asbestos is asbestos that can be easily crumbled or broken into pieces. When an asbestos-containing product is broken or is crumbled, countless numbers of asbestos fibers are released into the air which can be inhaled by people who are nearby. Students have been asked to avoid tacking, taping or gluing anything to the walls in the dorms. The department also issued a warning against scraping or damaging walls, ceilings or pipes.
The University’s Associate Director of Housing tried to minimize the risk of asbestos product exposure by stating that he does not believe that the presence of asbestos would deter any student from living in any of the residence halls. And this is the problem – students’ worries about asbestos are not the point.
The comments of University of North Carolina officials quoted in the recent article seem intended to minimize student apprehension rather than actually evaluate the scope and seriousness of the health risks to which students are being exposed. The article quoted the Director of the Department of Environment, Health and Safety as saying that “None of the asbestos on campus is a health hazard.” Unfortunately, the article did not describe any efforts by the university to make an accurate assessment of the kinds and amount of asbestos-containing products in the seven dormitories, or elsewhere on campus, or the extent to which these materials may have become friable. Given the fact that students are probably intensely interested in many subjects other than evaluating the condition of asbestos materials in their dormitories, such a study would seem to be a proper precaution.
Source: dailytarheel.com, “Antsy about asbestos: dorm residents don’t need to worry,” Piper Anderson, Sep. 28, 2015