The student center at the University of Kentucky (UK) is undergoing a renovation in what appears to be full compliance with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency AHERA (Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act) regulations, which govern all U.S. schools - whether private, public or for-profit. That is, the rooms are sealed with plastic sheeting and signs posted to alert the unwary that professional asbestos remediation is taking place.
According to UK's Director of Environmental Management Bob Kjelland, the floor tiles and glue have been confirmed to contain asbestos, but Kjelland stresses that there is nothing to worry about. He and his team have everything under control, including a post-remediation, 24-hour air quality assessment, scheduled for July 21, which will confirm that any asbestos particle levels that might have escaped are within safe levels.
After that, work will resume on rooms 111, 113, 115, 117 and 119, in the oldest part of the student center, where old carpet covers even older tile. Student Center Director Rhonda King estimates the age of both at about 60 years. The university itself was built in 1865.
Once the antiquated and potentially dangerous floor tiles are out, phase 2 - largely consisting of surface renovations - can begin.
Kjelland was also quick to point out that the remediation presents no real dangers as long as the tiles remain in unbroken condition. It is only when asbestos-containing materials are broken, crushed or damaged that asbestos fibers leak out.
Then, they have the potential to cause a number of asbestos-related diseases including asbestosis, certain lung and digestive system cancers, and mesothelioma. The first, a chronic and debilitating respiratory disease, is usually developed after prolonged exposure, but the latter three - particularly mesothelioma, which is cancer of the mesothelial lining of the chest or abdomen - can be triggered by a single instance of contact. In fact, none of the agencies charged with monitoring, reporting and dealing with asbestos-related diseases - OSHA, the CDC, nor the American Cancer Society - has ever established minimum, safe levels of asbestos exposure.
The university-wide policy, based on AHERA regulations, is to hire a certified professional to remove the tiles, Kjelland notes. Because the contractor the university uses is accredited, and does at least 10 similar procedures a month, anything that might go wrong can be quickly and safely dealt with, though Kjelland emphasizes the remediation/renovation is routine.
The university also posted signs around the rooms to notify students and the public, and the sheeting serves to restrict access and confine any dispersal of particles.
The renovations, consisting of new flooring, furniture, paint and blinds, will eventually take place in all the first floor rooms of the student center, as well as in several other locations throughout the building. The remediation/renovations are staged so as not to severely impact the university's budget, which - like the rest of the country - has fallen on difficult times.
This summer was chosen, according to King, because it provided an interval when the high-traffic rooms wouldn't be so much in demand. The university served almost 27,000 students in the 2008-09 school year, 70 percent of them undergraduates and 88 percent attending full-time.