An asbestos expert told a group of about 50 concerned parents that there was no “measurable” amount of asbestos in the air at McGill Hall, but children still could have been exposed to the toxic material. He predicted that UM employees would be able to return to McGill Hall in a week, after the University does a deep clean of the building.
“I can’t measure the airborne exposure that your children have experienced,” said Scott Rogers, a health and safety consultant from Environmental Solutions, an environmental consulting firm. Based on his experience working with asbestos, Rogers said he believed the building could be cleaned in seven days.
Asbestos can cause lung disease and mesothelioma anywhere from 10 to 40 years after exposure. On January 21, initial asbestos test results in showed high levels of asbestos in settled dust at McGill Hall and its preschool area, where 47 young children attended ASUM childcare. Eight days after the test results came in, administrators closed McGill Hall to the public and relocated the children to the education building.
Inhaling asbestos particulates in the air can lead to serious health conditions. Yet Rogers said that data correlating settled dust with asbestos particles to conditions like lung cancer and mesothelioma are inconclusive. And it is unclear whether the dust that children at McGill Hall were exposed to could have put them at risk.
“I would say from the process of logic, certainly it could become airborne,” Rogers said. “There just isn’t the data.”
This isn’t the first time that UM has been dealt with concerns about asbestos. In 1983, the Kaimin reported that asbestos had been detected in multiple buildings on campus. However, nothing was done because the University did not have to comply with Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) guidelines.
At that time, workers at the Physical Plant said they were afraid to speak out about the asbestos they were exposed to for fear of losing their jobs. UM health and safety Director Ken Willett recommended that the workers get Pulmonary exams.
“I’m not going to second-guess the experts,” Willett told the Kaimin in 1983. “But personally, I don’t think one tiny fiber in your lungs is going to kill you.”
At the meeting, Rogers recommended that parents wash their children’s clothes and educate them about going into dusty places. He added that the University should practice different policies and procedures in order to prevent future asbestos buildup in McGill Hall.
During the meeting, UM President Seth Bodnar apologized to parents for the disruption, fear and uncertainty they felt during the evacuation process. Many parents criticized UM administrators for not evacuating children from McGill Hall immediately upon detecting asbestos.
“I stand here before you as a father of three,” Bodnar said. “I have been and will continue to have my sole focus on the safety of the people on campus.”
“Are you going to live with the anxiety that your kids are going to have to live with lung cancer?” responded one mom.
Bodnar said that administrators are working on a plan to relocate children at the education building, but that it might take two months to find a more permanent location.