January 7, 2014



Information about asbestos on campus

By Shane J Garrett

The most common asbestos is a naturally occurring magnesium silicate mineral that is fibrous in nature. It has been used in fireproof fabrics, brake pads, roofing materials, insulation and paint fillers and as a reinforcing agent in rubbers, plastics and cements. These materials may pose an increased risk if they become damaged in some way, allowing asbestos fibers to become airborne. When the fibers are airborne, they can be inhaled and go into the lungs, which can lead to serious health problems.

The major health issues associated with asbestos exposure are:

  • Asbestosis: a noncancerous scarring of the lungs, which leads to shortness of breath and crackling sound while inhaling.
  • Lung cancer: symptoms include coughing and change in breathing.
  • Mesothelioma: a rare form of cancer in the lining of the chest, lungs, heart and abdomen that is almost always linked to asbestos exposure.

Most cases of asbestosis or lung cancer in workers occurred 15 years or more after the person was first exposed to asbestos. Most cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed 30 years or more after the first exposure to asbestos. Asbestos-related disease has been diagnosed in asbestos workers, family members, and residents who live close to asbestos mines or processing plants. Smoking or cigarette smoke, together with exposure to asbestos, greatly increases the likelihood of lung cancer.

Asbestos was a very common building material prior to 1981. In fact practically every building built prior to that contained asbestos. Most commonly, it is or was found in floor tile, thermal insulation on plumbing, roofing tiles and mastics. Over the years we have tried to properly remove it where and when we can.

If left intact and undisturbed, asbestos containing materials do not pose a health risk to people working or living in our buildings. Asbestos containing material is not generally considered to be harmful unless it is releasing dust or fibers into the air where they can be inhaled or ingested.

There are two types of asbestos products, friable and non-friable. An example of friable asbestos is sprayed on surface insulation. An example of non-friable asbestos is vinyl asbestos floor tile. Asbestos is most hazardous when it is friable. The term "friable" means that the asbestos is easily crumbled by hand, releasing fibers into the air. Sprayed on asbestos insulation is highly friable. Asbestos floor tile is not.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that we are all exposed to low levels of asbestos in the air. People are more likely to experience asbestos-related disorders when they are exposed (1) to high concentrations of asbestos, (2) for longer periods of time and (3) more often. The time lag between significant inhalation of asbestos and any adverse health manifestations can be as long as 30 or more years.

The regulations concerning how we work with asbestos has changed drastically over the decades. Early in the mining, manufacturing, application and removal of asbestos materials there was little regulation. People working with asbestos materials would work in some very dusty situations. In fact, sometimes the air was so thick with asbestos that the worker couldn’t see more than a few feet while applying it to a ceiling. It was very common for workers to remove asbestos by smashing it with a hammer. All of this led to workers developing asbestos related disease.

Today working with asbestos is highly regulated by both, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency . Closer to home, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment regulates how we work with asbestos on campus. Here at the university, anyone who works with asbestos must be properly trained. The training varies with the degree of work that needs to be done. Custodians that might work around asbestos materials receive annual asbestos awareness training while workers who remove asbestos must attend a minimum of four days of training as well as annual refresher training.

Asbestos can be found in almost every building on campus with the exception of those built in the last few years. It is most common to find asbestos in any building built before 1981. We have found asbestos applied to ceilings, between floors, vermiculite insulation, on plumbing, inside some doors, as parts of HVAC systems, air ducts, floor tiles, glues and mastics, as well as architectural features. As long as the asbestos is not damaged, there is no hazard to building occupants. If the asbestos is damaged, we try to get it fixed as quickly as possible to avoid endangering building occupants.

Here is the list of buildings where friable asbestos is found:

Calvin Hall — under flooring
Cardwell Hall — ceilings
Coles Hall — ceilings
Dickens Hall — under flooring
Dykstra Hall — ceilings
Edwards Hall — ceilings
Foundation Tower — above ceilings
Kedzie Hall — under flooring
King Hall — ceilings
K-State Student Union — ceilings
Leasure Hall — under flooring
McCain Auditorium — underside of stairs and columns behind stage
Shellenberger Hall — ceilings
Throckmorton Hall — architectural panels
Trotter Hall — ceilings
Waters Hall — ceilings

To be perfectly safe around asbestos, leave it alone. Do not damage asbestos materials in any way. Do not sit on or lean against, scrape, gouge or rub it. Asbestos becomes hazardous if it is damaged and it releases fibers which are inhaled.

The environmental health and safety department will be offering asbestos awareness training to anyone interested in learning more about it. Anyone working on campus is encouraged to attend the training, especially if you work in one of the above buildings. Training classes will be offered once a month in the environmental health and safety department's training room, 011 Edwards Hall.

Classes and times for the next six months will be:

  • 1:30 p.m. Jan. 24
  • 1:30 p.m. Feb. 6
  • 10:30 a.m. March 7
  • 1:30 p.m. April 3
  • 9 a.m. May 9
  • 9 a.m. June 12

Register to attend through HRIS. Arrangements can also be made with environmental health and safety for department seminars. The instructor, Shane Garrett, will come to make the presentation to the department.