Asbestos threat could be wrong

By Caryn Rosenberg

All of NIU’s asbestos treatment might not have been necessary, according to a new study.

A panel sponsored by industry and the federal government found the risk to office workers, school children and others of getting cancer from asbestos exposure is probably no greater than the risk from normal levels in the outside air, according to an article in the Sept. 26 Chicago Tribune.

Asbestos has been found in many NIU buildings and millions of dollars have been spent on its treatment. If the study proves true, the time and money spent by NIU on asbestos treatment could all be for nothing.

Pat Hewitt, assistant vice president for Business and Operations, said the study doesn’t surprise her because most people don’t come in contact with high concentrations of asbestos. In addition, when testing has been done there have been, on occasion, higher readings outside than inside a building.

“The study would indicate asbestos is never going to be a real problem for us,” Hewitt said. “But we’re still going to go ahead treating asbestos regardless of the study.

“We’re not required to go and remove asbestos and that gives us more flexibility to plan,” Hewitt said. “We’ve been doing (treatments) for several years now.”

Even if the study is 100 percent correct, Hewitt said the time and money put into the asbestos treatment at NIU would not be wasted.

“It’s never wasted if you think it’s going to be a hazard to people,” Hewitt said.

Asbestos can be found in such places as insulation wraps in mechanical rooms, floor tiles and even in the glue which holds the tile to the floor.

Treatment of asbestos includes sealing or removing it and renovating the affected area.

“If asbestos is not disturbed, the non-disturbance leads to a low degree of hazard,” according to NIU Industrial Hygienist Jim Nelson.

In addition, Hewitt said safety is also important after the asbestos is removed. “No matter how you remove it, it is considered hazardous waste and has to be disposed of properly,” Hewitt said.

Nelson agrees asbestos must be properly handled to avoid hazards.

“When feasible, asbestos-containing materials are best handled by maintaining them in place,” said Nelson. “It’s conceivable that in some cases removal may actually increase the hazard—if the removal is done improperly.”