Mistakes and miscommunications involving an asbestos removal project at a dormitory building at Oregon State University have come to the attention of the state’s Department of Environmental Quality. The agency is considering levying fines of more than $8,000 against a Portland-area firm for its work on the roof of Reed Lodge, a student residence hall on the Corvallis campus.
Ester Westbrook, a spokeswoman with the agency’s environmental enforcement division said that the state has leveled charges against IRS Environmental, Inc., of Portland. The charges allege that the company did not take proper precautions to prevent asbestos fibers contained within the dormitory’s roofing tiles from coming loose and posing an airborne health hazard to workers, students and university staff. The project to remove the roofing tiles began in October 2009 and targeted nearly three thousand square feet of cement asbestos board.
Oregon environmental officials also allege that the original material was brittle and prone to breaking off into chunks. When asbestos-laced material breaks up, it can release dangerous asbestos fibers. The loose, airborne fibers can cause lung damage when inhaled. Asbestos is also the only known cause of mesothelioma, a form of cancer that affects the soft tissue surrounding the lungs. Asbestos fibers can also act as “needles” within the lungs, puncturing cells and causing respiratory ailments.
Ms. Westbrook listed the violations against IRS Environmental, which included the failure to notify the DEQ of the presences of loose asbestos at the site before beginning work on the project. The failure to alert the agency earned IRS Environmental a fine of $1,500. The company was also fined for not soaking the asbestos-laced debris in water as a precaution against allowing the fibers to become airborne. DEQ issued a $2,400 fine for that violation.
The largest fine, $4,200, came as a result of the company’s failure to properly remove and dispose of the asbestos-laced tiles. The company allegedly did not continue to wet down the debris as they moved it from the site. They also allegedly failed to dispose of the material in a landfill tailored to handling asbestos. The company was also cited, but not fined, for failing to keep the asbestos-laced debris in leak-proof plastic bags.
Ms. Westbrook also stressed the common occurrence of such violations. Typically, she said, most of the offenses were the result of poor or inadequate training available for workers who handle the dangerous materials. State and federal laws mandate that companies who deal with asbestos-laced materials employ proper removal and disposal procedures and provide workers with sufficient training and safety gear, such as breathing masks and protective clothing.
As the campus deals with the effects of the renovations on Reed Lodge, university officials announced that they would be building a new dormitory that would be constructed using recycled materials. The new residence hall is designed to meet “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design” standards, which will include rainwater reclamation and a high-efficiency heating and cooling system. The building is slated to house more than three hundred international students and also house an educational center with an auditorium, computer lab and a coffee shop.
Sources: Albany Democrat-Hearld, GazetteTimes.com