GW finds asbestos in Marvin Center

Asbestos removal in the Marvin Center may further delay renovations to the building, Marvin Center Governing Board Chair Mike Petron said.

Asbestos, a group of natural mineral fibers known for its strength and fire-resistant properties, was used widely in the past for thermal insulation and fire proofing. But asbestos can damage the respiratory system and is no longer used in buildings, according to the National Institutes of Health Web site.

Asbestos was found in the ceiling when construction teams began to demolish the ground floor interior of the Marvin Center, Petron said.

“They didn’t expect to find it and they found it,” Petron said.

Mike Gargano, assistant vice president for Student and Academic Support Services, said he is uncertain about the extent of contamination in the building. Building administrators said they are concerned asbestos is present on at least one other floor scheduled for renovation this summer.

“Most likely it’ll be everywhere else,” Petron said. “It’s a health issue as much as a scheduling issue.”

“The project is going to be going on for the next several years, and I believe that there are other areas that can contain asbestos,” said Eric Houghen, senior safety specialist in the University’s risk management department.

Petron said renovations have been altered but not stopped.

“They’re trying to work around it,” he said.

Petron said a finalized renovation schedule will be announced after spring break.

Al Ingle, associate vice president for business affairs, said students should not be concerned about health risks.

“It is not in an area where it would be hazardous,” he said.

Ingle and Petron were unclear about whether the asbestos has been removed on the ground floor or will be removed in the near future.

“The asbestos is definitely going to be removed (from the ground floor),” Petron said. “They’ve got people lined up to come in and fix it.”

Ingle said the asbestos was “not a big problem” and the ground-floor asbestos has been completely removed.

“It’s gone. We are not certain if we are going to find additional asbestos,” Ingle said.

Two phases of asbestos removal for the ground floor were carried out in November and February, Houghen said.

“We removed asbestos from the tile on Nov. 20 and removed duct insulation in the south basement storage room in the beginning of February,” Houghen said.

Houghen said the removal does not pose a health risk.

“We use a qualified licensed asbestos contractor. They employ certain techniques to keep fibers from becoming airborne as much as possible,” he said.

Bob Pigg, who is with Asbestos International, a division of Canada’s Asbestos Institute, said in cases like the Marvin Center’s, “there’s rarely reason to be concerned.

“If you remove asbestos correctly, there’s no risk, and most people who are in the removal business these days are responsible people,” he said.

Houghen said the department has been aware of the presence of asbestos in the Marvin Center for at least four years.

“We had a survey of the entire building done in 1994 by a consulting firm. We worked with Facilities Management and found which materials contained asbestos,” he said.

Ingle said asbestos was commonly used in the past and no one should be surprised that the substance exists there, considering the Marvin Center’s age.

“Many old buildings have asbestos,” Ingle said. “It doesn’t mean that there’s a problem.”

Pigg said asbestos is prevalent in many metropolitan buildings.

“There’s asbestos everywhere,” Pigg said. “We breathe it every day. However, it is when you breathe it at a concentrated level that there are detrimental health effects.”

Some asbestos fibers are so small that a microscope is necessary to see them. These small fibers can float in the air, and humans can suck the fibers into their lungs where they can become lodged, according to the NIH Web site.

Inhaling asbestos fibers increases the chances of developing lung cancer or mesothelioma, a cancer of the lining of the body cavities. It also triggers shortness of breath and coughing.

“I don’t believe that there’s currently a health hazard to students or staff,” Houghen said.

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