What students should know about the asbestos situation
Walking through the halls of Concordia’s VA building, one might notice small red stickers warning students about asbestos contamination along the walls. It is no secret that asbestos is a topic of conversation among those who frequent the building, but what can students do to ensure they are not in any danger?
“The general message is, if there’s a sticker on the wall you shouldn’t be touching [it],” said Lina Filacchione, Manager of Industrial Hygiene and Prevention at Concordia University, during an asbestos awareness information session last Thursday. “Our goal is to inform you how to live safely and interact safely within the space.”
But what exactly is asbestos, and what are the associated risks? According to Health Canada, asbestos is a naturally occuring fibre most commonly used prior to the 1990s, primarily for insulation and fireproofing. Asbestos products generally consist of vinyl floor tiles, ceiling tiles, plaster, and cement. Since being classified as a carcinogen, a substance that can cause cancer, in the late 1980s, its use has been discontinued.
In order for asbestos to become a health risk, it must be disturbed by, for example, hammering into an asbestos-infested wall. Undisturbed, asbestos is not a health risk. Primary routes of exposure include ingestion and inhalation. However, as there is a lot of interaction within the building, it’s important to take safety precautions when working within the space.
“In the VA, vermiculite containing asbestos is present in exterior perimeter and some interior walls,” said Filacchione, noting that vermiculite contaminated with asbestos resembles cat litter.
Other materials in VA that can contain asbestos are floor tiles, mechanical insulation, and plaster.
“There are no symptoms for asbestos exposure [and there] are no reactions,” said Filacchione, adding that increased exposure can lead to an increased risk of developing illness, such as respiratory problems.
So what safety measures is the university taking to ensure students’ health and safety? Filacchione said Concordia does a lot of monitoring for asbestos. One of the precautions is routine monitoring, which consists of taking 12 samples per year in a specific location.
“We’re starting to do more [monitoring],” Filacchione said, noting that in the past, the university was only conducting six tests per year, solely where there was vermiculite. “We thought it was important for the community to report concerns.” Filacchione added that generally, any substance resembling vermiculite and pooling along the floors and windows is most probably asbestos.
Students are advised to not attempt to clean up any questionable materials by themselves, but instead, to contact a supervisor.
“The real risk is when you’re manipulating materials,” said Filacchione. “Do not attempt to stop the work, but you can ask questions and let security know.”
Students looking to get more information or to report concerns can contact Concordia University Environmental Health and Safety at 514-848-2424, ext. 4877 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The next asbestos awareness information session will be taking place on Wednesday, January 15, at 5:30 p.m. in VA 232. Further information can be found by visiting https://www.facebook.com/events/3244254108922624/.
Photo by Cecilia Piga.