A look at asbestos on campus

The approximately 60 campus buildings that contain asbestos are checked annually for potential health hazards

Sixty buildings on campus contain asbestos, but the University’s Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) Director Dan Langham said it doesn’t pose a health hazard to students.

Asbestos is an insulation material that can be a health hazard and carcinogen when disturbed and particles become airborne.

Langham since January 2006, there has been approximately 15 projects where asbestos was removed on campus.

“They can range from a renovation project like in the law library when a large amount was removed, down to a simple project where some piping was altered or repaired and they took out the asbestos insulation around the pipe, which is a minor site-specific thing.”

Langham said EHS hasn’t found any airborne asbestos on campus in the last year.

“That’s not common at all,” he said. “In our annual inspections, we do verify the condition of the asbestos, so we look at pipes to verify the state of the asbestos to make sure they’re encapsulated.”

Langham said EHS conducts an annual review to assess buildings that have asbestos.

“[The review] is to verify the asbestos that’s there and to ensure it’s encapsulated and isn’t causing any issues,” he said. “For mould, we do investigate mould complains if people are concerned.”

EHS has also worked closely with Physical Plant Services to monitor construction projects, Langham said, to make sure the University is completing renovations to provincial standards.

“We look to see it’s in its original form--that it’s encapsulated,” he said. “If asbestos is found leading up to a renovation, then there’s an assessment to make sense to remove it from the building.”

If it can be done as part of a construction project, then asbestos will be removed, Langham said, adding that an assessment was made before the construction work was done on Earl Street and Clergy Street to make way for the upcoming Queen’s centre.

“There’s a requirement to do a Hazardous Substances Assessment and a contractor or consultant goes through the location and identifies where a number of hazardous substances are, including asbestos,” he said.

The hazardous substances must be removed according to provincial regulations before demolition takes place, Langham said.

“If they find mould, they’ll mark that in the report. For those houses, there were no significant mould growths noted.”

Ugis Bickis is a professor in Community Health and Epidemiology who specializes in effects of environmental factors on human health. He said the extent of the risk of suffering from airborne asbestos depends on the extent of exposure.

“If asbestos became airborne and became inhaled by someone in sufficient quantities, then that would contribute to the individual’s risk of developing cancers like lung cancer,” he said, adding that asbestos is hazardous once it’s disturbed and rendered airborne.

“Some kind of physical disturbance can cause it to become airborne or vibration can cause it to become airborne,” he said, adding that rapid air movement can also have this effect.

“What you’ve got on campus, you’ve got asbestos on pipes and on various surfaces as insulation,” Bickis said.

If air is moved mechanically within the area, asbestos could be disturbed and become airborne, Bickis said, adding that the most common ways to disturb asbestos depends on its location.

“On pipes, the most common way is that there is a need to do some kind of plumbing work,” he said. “On the other hand, when it comes to insulation that’s been applied on a ceiling or attic space, it’s very often an electrician who becomes exposed … during electrical work.” Bickis said he doesn’t expect anyone living within the vicinity around Earl and Clergy Streets to experience any affects if mould or asbestos had been found in the demolished houses.

“Those who are right in the middle of it might have exposures that are significant,” he said. “I would think if they’re like most houses, it’s not like their demolishment is going to cause some kind of significant exposure.”

Although asbestos may be mixed with other materials that can cause symptoms of allergies, Bickis said, the asbestos itself doesn’t cause these symptoms.

“The hazards of mould are quite different,” he said. “With mould, you do expect that some people will have symptoms of allergy.”

Bickis said mould shouldn’t be growing indoors and if it is, it’s usually due to water incursion which should be dealt with to prevent further growth.

“Basically there is no reason to be concerned about the presence of asbestos in buildings, but in buildings where there is asbestos, there is every reason to be aware and knowledgeable of its presence and not to disturb it except in accordance with prescribed procedures,” he said.

Under the Ontario regulation 278/05, Bickis said if material has fallen and exposure to asbestos is likely to occur, the owner of the material is required to clean up and remove it.

“Legal requirements are different from risk-based requirements,” he said. “When asbestos is discovered and causes exposure, it has to be dealt with regardless of the actual numbers.” AMS President James Macmillan said asbestos on campus isn’t a big issue for the AMS.

“Student health and safety is very important to us, but in terms of what I know about asbestos … I don’t really have too much knowledge about that,” he said, adding that it’s also not an issue they spend a lot of consistent time on.

“It’s something that I guess we would work with the University to deal with situations as they come up.”

Asbestos locations on campus

•Southern African Migration Project (B)
•Film Studies (P)
•Learning Disabilities Centre (P)
•9 St. Lawrence (B)
•School of English (P)
•Adelaide Hall (M)
•Agnes Etherington Art Centre (M)
•BioScience Complex (C, M and P)
•Bruce Wing (C, M and P)
•Bruce-Miller Link (M)
•Cataraqui Building (M)
•Central Heating Plant (M)
•Chown Hall (M)
•Clark Hall(M)
•Clark Hall - Pub Side(P)
•Douglas Library (P)
•Dunning Hall (M and T)
•Dupuis Hall (C and M)
•Ellis Hall (C M and T)
•Etherington Auditorium (M)
•Fleming-Jemmett Hall (M)
•Fleming-Pollack Hall (P)
•Goodwin Hall (C and M)
•Gordon-Brock Residence (C and M)
•Grant Hall (M)
•Harrison-Lecaine Hall (M)
•Humphrey Hall (M)
•Jackson Hall (P)
•Jean Royce Hall I (M)
•Jean Royce Hall II (M)
•Jeffrey Hall (M)
•John Orr Tower (M)
•Kathleen Ryan (C)
•Kingston Hall (M)
•Lasalle Building (M)
•Leonard Hall (M)
•Louise D. Acton Building (M)
•Mac Corry (C and M)
•MacDonald (M)
•Macgillivray-Brown (M)
•Duncan McArthur Hall C (M)
•McLaughlin Hall (M)
•McNeill House (M)
•Miller Hall (C and P)
•Morris Hall (M)
•Nicol Hall (P)
•Old Medical Building (M)
•Ontario Hall (M)
•Phys. Ed. Centre (M)
•Quinte Lodge (M)
•Richardson Stadium (M)
•Rideau Building (M)
•Stirling Hall (C and M)
•Summerhill (M)
•Theological Hall (M)
•Underground Garage (P)
•Victoria Hall (M)
•Waldron Tower (M)
•Watson Hall (M and P)

LEGEND: Letters correspond with
where asbestos is located.
B—Basement piping
C—Cement boards
M—Mechanical equipment and piping

All final editorial decisions are made by the Editor(s)-in-Chief and/or the Managing Editor. Authors should not be contacted, targeted, or harassed under any circumstances. If you have any grievances with this article, please direct your comments to journal_editors@ams.queensu.ca.

When commenting, be considerate and respectful of writers and fellow commenters. Try to stay on topic. Spam and comments that are hateful or discriminatory will be deleted. Our full commenting policy can be read here.