Renovation at the Central Oregon Community College (COCC) campus in Grandview is proceeding, and by all indications according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA) protocols.
These AHERA standards require all primary and secondary schools to: inspect buildings for asbestos; develop plans to manage asbestos found; notify parents and staff about plan availability and implementation; train maintenance staff in asbestos awareness and handling; and implement procedures like repair, encapsulation, enclosure and removal as needed to deal with asbestos.
Grandview campus officials clearly have a grasp of what is required, unlike many schools across the United States, where the discovery of asbestos – or, worse yet, a failure to discover it in time – has led to the exposure of thousands of students and the potential for a future epidemic of mesothelioma.
At Grandview, sheets of plastic sealed along the edges with tape serve as barriers to rooms undergoing remodeling. Signs on the doors and walls warn of asbestos abatement occurring inside these rooms, and negative air-flow machines insure that contaminated air won’t seep from the rooms into common hallways on campus. Lastly, air quality tests demonstrate that no areas of the campus save those undergoing asbestos remediation and remodeling contain asbestos.
The room currently undergoing repair is the student lounge, most of whose services will be moved to the as-yet incomplete new campus services building. Further work will also bring the student lounge building up to ADA standards, including an elevator to allow easy access by handicapped students. Eventually, the campus also plans to expand with more offices and classrooms.
The first phase of remediation and remodeling is expected to finish just about the time students leave for summer vacation. The second phase will take place during the summer months, when fewer students are present. In all, remodeling and remediation has been designed with the dangers of asbestos in mind, and Grandview campus officials are to be commended for their foresight and planning.
Asbestos is a fibrous mineral found in certain rock formations, and was widely used up to the 1970s in insulation, floor tiles, tile adhesives and acoustical/insulative spray-on components. After that, health officials began to recognize its dangers, and its use in U.S. manufacturing was limited to one percent of product by a 1989 law. Imported products still contain considerable quantities of the lethal material, however, and no move has been made to restrict them.
Asbestos fibers can, when inhaled or ingested, cause a number of health problems like asbestosis, cancers of the digestive tract, and mesothelioma, a uniquely lethal cancer of mesothelial tissues in the lungs and abdomen that is generally fatal within 18 months of diagnosis.
The problem with mesothelioma is that it remains dormant for decades, finally exploding into tumors for which no known cure has been found. None of the agencies charged with asbestos identification, remediation and protection – the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), or the American Cancer Society – have ever established safe, minimum exposures for asbestos.
Asbestos won’t be a problem at the Grandview campus, however, thanks to the planning and foresight of school officials, whose current remediation efforts should serve as a model to other education facilities across America.
Sources: Rhode Island Health Department, Ada.gov, Central Oregon Community College