Asbestos has no place in the walls of Queen’s campus

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Campus’ charming historical buildings might add to the University’s appeal, but old architecture only goes so far when its walls are lined with asbestos.  

Queen’s can’t keep prioritizing aesthetics over student and faculty safety.

An article published in The Varsity this summer explores U of T’s controversial asbestos guidelines, which allow a surprisingly high amount of the material in campus buildings. Like the University of Toronto, Queen’s is a well-established institution with beautiful buildings—several more than a century old—that are important to the campus’s history.

However, much Canadian construction before 1990 included asbestos, a deadly carcinogen commonly used for insulation. In 2018, the federal government finally banned the substance’s use, but it remains in many older buildings in the walls, floors, and basements. 

Queen’s has received funding for several new state-of-the-art buildings in recent years, complete with Starbucks and TV screens, and yet the school’s older buildings are left un-retrofitted, which risks student and faculty health and safety. 

Removing asbestos from campus buildings should be a priority above newer campus renovations. Although asbestos is less of a health risk if left undisturbed, students and staff alike are entitled to feel safe in their learning and work spaces. 

The University's student population isn’t made sufficiently aware of the places on campus in which they’re at risk of asbestos exposure—the New Employee/Student Safety Orientation Checklist makes no mention of the substance. The Queen’s University Asbestos Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) requires half-day Asbestos Awareness Training only for employees who may come in contact with asbestos through the course of their work.

But all students and staff should be made aware of the potential dangers of asbestos and where it can be found on campus. Otherwise, they won’t know how—or even if they should—report any building and facility problems that may lead to exposure.

The University has successfully renovated older campus buildings while maintaining their key architectural features in the past. The Goodes Hall extension honours the architecture of the original structure while providing students and administrators with modern workspaces.

Renovations on new campus buildings, like the ARC renovations this past summer, do little to improve the overall safety of the Queen’s community.

Federal government funding should be funneled toward capital projects emphasizing the retrofitting of older university buildings and the safe removal of asbestos.

If the University isn’t proactive, the risk of having a toxic substance in campus building walls will only increase.  

Queen’s needs to address this problem before the health of students and staff is risked any further.

—Journal Editorial Board

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