Dixie State University facilities management is in the process of removing toxic material from the McDonald Building.
At one time, asbestos was widely used to insulate buildings and acted as a bonding agent for tile flooring. This elongated fiber is very durable, so most houses and buildings constructed before the 1970’s contain asbestos, said Dennis Cox, a health and safety officer. Although widely used for several decades, asbestos is now banned in over 50 different countries because it is a toxic material.
“If you breathe it in, it is a fiber that can get into the lungs,” Cox said. “It’ll settle at the bottom of the lungs and stay there.”
Aside from developing lung disease, individuals who inhale asbestos are at risk of developing mesothelioma. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, mesothelioma can arise 20-40 years after inhaling asbestos. Today, the majority of asbestos exposure results during maintenance operations and remediation of older buildings.
To combat potential exposure, Gibb said DSU has to follow state guidelines to remove asbestos in school buildings.
“We don’t mess around with assuming that it is going to be OK [because] it is something to be taken serious,” Gibb said.
To begin remodeling a building, Gibb said he has to first contact a state representative who works with the Division of Facilities and Management and contacts R & R Environmental to assess the building. R & R Environmental is a private company that provides environmental and industrial hygiene services. After finishing this non-invasive assessment, DSU’s facility management receives a report of the building’s status.
After developing an abatement initiative, Rocmont, which is a licensed asbestos abatement company in Utah, is hired to remove the asbestos.
Gibb said Rocmont seals the specific space in the building where the asbestos is located with plastic, and the workers are required to wear body suits with respirators.
“Other portions of the building can be occupied during abatement because they use precautions to isolate the asbestos,” Gibb said. “Another thing to note is asbestos in place is non-harmful, [but] the issue is when it is disturbed.”
During this entire process, R & R Environmental is also monitoring the air quality of the space where the asbestos is and the air quality outside of the space as well, Gibb said.
“They read the levels, and if it becomes unsafe, we have to take measures to protect the public,” Gibb said. “You know, I have been working on campus for 10 years and probably half or so remodels contain some type of abatement, and we have never had a problem.”
However, time constraints have slowed down the asbestos removal process inside of the McDonald Building.
Jon Gibb, director of facilities planning, said if the funding for this project had been granted months before, the McDonald Building would have been completely remodeled before school started.
“The funding became available July 2016, and we didn’t have enough time to remodel the entire [McDonald] building,” Gibb said. “We started immediately after the funding was available, and we finished construction the Friday before classes started on Monday.”
It took one week to fully remove the asbestos from the first floor of the McDonald Building, and Rocmont Industrial Corporation will work on removing it from the second level in May, Gibb said. Before this abatement, asbestos was also removed from the South Administration Building, which took three days to complete.
Gibb said although facilities management has detailed reports of every building on campus, many of them are outdated. Because of this, Gibb said when buildings need to be remodeled, they are required to go through a reassessment to address any potential safety hazards.
Gibb said the dean of students and department chairs were informed of what was going on with the building and that information was filtered down to other faculty members.
However, some students were unaware of what was happening inside of the McDonald Building.
“I didn’t know [about the asbestos removal process] until over the summer when I went to school for a meeting and people were in hazmat suits, and I asked ‘what is going on?'” said Lyndsey Craig, a senior psychology major from Lexington, Kentucky. “I think they should have an assembly meeting to let those students know that is happening so they can make an educated choice on whether or not to take classes in that building.”
Gibb said for those who see the hazmat crew working in the building, it may be seen as intimidating.
“We just want to make sure we stay transparent with the campus on any issues that they feel they want information on,” Gibb said. “If students have concerns or feel their health is in jeopardy, we don’t have anything to hide because we understand that we are here because of the students and the classes that the faculty teach.”