Parents confronted University of Montana staff and technicians with concerns over high levels of asbestos found in the campus daycare center at a presentation at the UC Ballroom on Thursday, Jan. 31.
Testing showed levels of asbestos-laden surface dust in the childcare area of McGill Hall to be 21 times higher than federal standards, UM officials announced at the meeting.
Loose asbestos was discovered in the building that houses the ASUM Childcare Preschool as early as Dec. 12, 2018. When UM did not remove the children from McGill until Jan. 29, parents demanded the rationale for the delay.
“I can assure you, the anxiety that you are feeling, we are feeling,” UM Operations and Finance VP Paul Lasiter said at the meeting.
UM Director of Facilities Kevin Krebsbach gave a presentation about the asbestos and a management plan developed by himself and two specialists hired by the University. Although the schedule offered before the meeting had time for questions saved for the end of the presentation, parents wasted little time in asking about the University’s process in finally deciding to shut down the building.
“I couldn't care less about the building. What I want to know is, what do I need to do to for my kid?” one parent asked.
“We are running into frustrations that are much different than your frustrations,” said Missoula County environmental health specialist Jeanna Miller in response to the parent.
“There are so many variables that the answer to a lot of these questions is ‘We don’t know.'” she said.
Slides during the presentation showed both the degraded pipe insulation above the offices on the second floor, which were originally believed to be the only isolated areas of contamination, as well as a torn air duct that feeds into the preschool.
“What’s happening is, in 1954, they put that stuff everywhere and over the years it started deteriorating,” said Krebsbach.
Air samples showed no airborne particles, but dust containing levels of asbestos above those established by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration prompted the complete closure of McGill Hall until further notice.
In an earlier interview with the Kaimin, Krebsbach said testing every building periodically was not cost effective. With spot abatement, technicians and custodial staff recognize asbestos and then report to Facilities Services.
Rarely does the discovery of asbestos cause an entire building to close. The last massive closure occurred in 2006, when two floors of the Clapp building were swept clean of asbestos.
In an email sent Thursday, Lasiter said McGill would stay closed at least two weeks. At the meeting, he said cleanup of the entire building would take another three or four months. Plans for redirecting the students will be announced at another time, said UM spokesperson Paula Short.
OSHA requires the complete abatement of any area shown to have more than 5,000 fibers of asbestos per square centimeter. One dust sample from the preschool classroom tested to have more than 100,000 fibers per square centimeter, requiring emergency cleanup by OSHA guidelines.
“We did not expect to see the high counts on the accessible surfaces,” said Bob Brownell, one of two industrial hygienists hired by the University to conduct asbestos testing.
“When we got the results from the accessible surfaces, as soon as we got those, there was a phone call made and the decision was obvious, and so they went ahead and closed the day care,” Brownell said.
“So it could be in our kids’ clothes?” one parent asked Brownell. “So, it could be in our car and our homes? What is the exposure risk of that?”
Brownell, who said he didn’t wear protective gear during any of the testing, told the parent that he did not see any risk.
In addition to parents attending, some faculty, staff and students assigned to courses in McGill Hall were present.