University staff members who came to Strong Hall to fix a broken toilet and leaking pipe found asbestos last week.
A maintenance team had to remove asbestos from the ceiling of the lobby in the residence hall, where members of Chi Omega and Pi Beta Phi live, after responding to a call that a toilet had overflowed and a pipe was leaking in second-floor bathrooms of the building. University spokesman Kurtis Hiatt said the damage also affected a community room in the building.
Staff removed asbestos from the lobby’s ceiling on Friday, and planned to replace insulation and parts of the ceiling over the weekend, Hiatt said. Air samples were taken and “there were no hazards to the GW community,” he said.
On Friday, plastic tarps and red tape marked “danger” covered parts of the Strong Hall lobby as staff worked to repair the area. Over the weekend, the plastic tent was removed from the area.
“Staff members have remained in close communication with Strong Hall residents to provide updates and minimize disruptions as much as possible during this process. The residence hall remains safe for residents,” he said. “We apologize for any inconvenience and appreciate Strong Hall residents’ patience as we resolve any remaining issues.”
Asbestos, a naturally occurring mineral, can be found in insulation and ceiling panels, and is not fully banned in the United States, said Ana Ducoing, who teaches about asbestos at the Ecologic Training Institute in California. It is known to cause lung cancers like mesothelioma.
She added that it can take from 10 to 40 years after being exposed to asbestos for people to develop symptoms of mesothelioma, but that it would be extremely rare for any student to develop a disease.
“It would be extremely rare for anyone to have anything,” she said.
Ari Massefski, the president of the Residence Hall Association, said he met with the Division of Operations on Friday and was told the repairs are being finished “as quickly as possible.”
He said his organization still plans to push for Strong Hall to be renovated this summer – an important backing for the historic building as officials designate different halls for upgrades.
“We’re still fully committed to advocating for renovations to Strong Hall over the summer,” he said.
In August 2011, health and safety officials found asbestos in Rice Hall, where many administrators work, and in 2012, staff members worked to remove asbestos from the basement of Gelman Library.
Mollie Bowman, the president of the Panhellenic Association, said the safety of the students living in Strong Hall is her “No. 1 priority.”
“I think [it] would be the No. 1 priority of the University as well,” she said.
Chi Omega’s chapter president, Kate Mellinger, said in an email that she was working closely with GW to fix the problem “as soon as possible.” The chapter president of Pi Beta Phi did not return requests for comment.
This article appeared in the January 26, 2015 issue of the Hatchet.