North Texas Daily

Asbestos remains encapsulated in many buildings on campus

Asbestos remains encapsulated in many buildings on campus

March 21
11:24 2017

Early in the month of February, a UNT resident of Kerr Hall posted a video on Twitter showing part of the ceiling above his toilet had crumbled and fallen on his bathroom floor. The components of the loose ceiling contained asbestos, as do other buildings on campus.

Asbestos is a substance comprised of very strong, fine fibers that were useful in construction and industry until its recall in 1989, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The EPA determined that when the material’s surface is not sealed, it is considered friable and it is then that these fibrous elements pose a threat to physical wellness, eventually causing asbestos-related diseases such as cancer after breathing in the fibers for so long. But as long as a surface is durable and sealed adequately, the material does not present a health risk and is considered secure until worn down in some form.

While more than one building on campus contains asbestos, it is encapsulated within the walls and “covered in layers of paint,” said Larry Collamer, asbestos coordinator at the UNT Risk Management office said.  

Collamer declined to answer which buildings on campus contain the material, but buildings that were built before the year of recall, such as Maple Street Hall, Sage Hall, Curry Hall and others, likely still do.

The material in the buildings will remain where it is, but there are procedures in place to remove it when warranted for, Collamer said.

Vickey Coffey, director of public health for UNT risk management, explained that before the start of any construction project, the state of the asbestos in the building is checked. A sample of the material is sent to state laboratories and, based on the results of the tests completed, it is either kept encapsulated or removed.  

To remove the asbestos, UNT contracts with third party asbestos-removal companies, like Intercom. Fernando Avila, operations manager of Intercom, said that the process to remove asbestos is one that is strategically done in order to comply with legal aspects of the removal. 

Any material that will be disturbed must be removed,” Avila said. “Whatever is not getting removed is covered up in plastic. We put a machine in there that filters that 99.97 percent of the fibers. The material is removed wet inside of a vacuum and it’s bagged twice. The material is labeled manifested and sent to a landfill that is approved by the state of Texas to accept asbestos.”

This process of removing asbestos waste was put into effect recently on campus. Last semester, a project in Sycamore Hall to remove asbestos caused all walls to be torn down and rebuilt completely, Coffey said.

The dumpster containing the waste material was left outside the building for days, but it did not pose a threat to the safety of the students. Randy Salsman, construction services manager in facilities, explains that the removed asbestos material was sealed waste.

“Before it’s removed from the containment area, it’s double bagged and sealed so there’s no danger for anyone on campus,” Salsman said. 

Collamer said the dumpster was padlocked to prevent escape of the substance, and explained the action that was taken in regards to the incident that the Kerr resident shared on social media.

“It was left where it was. They took a sample of the material, and test results came back in three hours. The results were negative, so it was cleaned up by regular custodial,” Collamer said.

Coffey emphasized that the focus is on the health of the university population.

“The safety of staff and students is a priority,” Coffey said.

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Celeste Gracia

Celeste Gracia

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