Student leaders spent the last few months working to get state legislators to allocate more money for CSU’s maintenance budget for a full-scale abatement of asbestos-containing tiles in university buildings — an project university officials say is unfeasible because of funding shortfalls.
Campus buildings, especially Clark, still contain asbestos after several partial removals since the Environmental Protection Agency mandated elimination of new asbestos-containing construction materials in 1988.
Up to 60 percent of the ceiling tiles in Clark contain asbestos, said Eric March, a health safety specialist with Environmental Health Services.
Brian Chase, the director of Facilities Management, maintains that this is a non-issue, and though CSU would remove the asbestos if it could, the cost would too expensive.
“We currently do not get enough money to maintain the buildings,” Chase said. “If there is a hazardous situation, then it becomes an immediate concern. But asbestos in its undisturbed form is not hazardous.”
Chase estimated the cost of removing asbestos from all buildings at “Tens of millions of dollars”, a very hefty fee considering CSU is nearly $150 million short on maintenance funds, according to Chase.
“The problem is there are other more pressing needs here on campus,” Chase said. “We have roofs that need to be fixed, mechanical and electrical problems, and classrooms that need to be upgraded. If Environmental Health Safety thought the asbestos was dangerous, we’d do something about it.”
But the university goes above and beyond EPA standards for maintenance, March said.
“It became an issue when were discussing renovations to the Rec. Center,” said Associated Students of CSU Sen. Cooper Anderson.
Anderson said he turned an eye to the asbestos issue after realizing that a large number of the buildings on campus were built in the 1960s.
“Since then ASCSU has been advocating the allocation of money so that certain things such as this can be taken care of,” Anderson said. “Our position is basically that for the tuition we pay, the academic environment should be top notch in all its phases.”
March, who has worked for CSU for 12 years, maintained that the university adheres strictly to all EPA requirements with additional university guidelines.
“Those are not optional, they require strict adherence,” March said. “Stiff penalties and fines exist for non-adherence.”
Asbestos, in its airborne form, can cause asbestosis, or other forms of respiratory disease.
Nearly every building on campus has asbestos in it in some form or other, whether it is used to wrap pipes or the ceiling and/or floor tiles are made of it.
It is not an immediate concern at this point, as it would take a malicious act to release fibers into the air.
March said the university adheres to the EPA Maximum Allowable Asbestos Limit regulations, which outline how much of a tile can contain asbestos.
“But we do not go under the guise that it’s okay for tiles to go broken,” he said. “It’s actually above and beyond what is required.”
Only EPA certified personnel are allowed to handle broken tiles.
Facilities Management has wanted to do a full asbestos abatement of the buildings for several years, but 50 to 60 percent of the tiles in buildings such as Clark contain asbestos.
Anderson understands that though ASCSU sees this as an issue, there is not much they can do about it at the moment.
“What we’ve learned through this whole situation is that the health risk is pretty minimal. We’re working right now on doing it incrementally,” he said. “The problem is that construction projects and transportation projects are the last things to get budgeted.”
According to both March and Chase, CSU does not currently have a plan in place to abate the buildings, nor does it have a timeline for when they might be able to attempt an abatement.
“It’s very expensive . to get this project done,” said March. “And then the problem is what do you do with all the personnel and the students? How do you move them effectively to take a whole building out of service?”
Staff writer Calvin Setar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.