Asbestos levels s safe for classes

By Dan O'Shea

A small amount of asbestos exposed last week during remodeling work in Graham Hall will not pose a health threat to students attending classes in the building today, NIU officials said.

Asbestos fibers, a proven carcinogen to humans when present in the air, were released Tuesday when an independant contractor installing new blinds accidentally loosened ceiling plaster that had encapsulated the substance.

Graham Hall, which contains offices for the college of education and several classrooms, was immediately closed. Environmental Services Inc., of Western Springs was called in to monitor asbestos levels in the building for two days while cleanup procedures began.

“Air samples taken immediately after the accident were well within the standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency, and we (NIU officials) are confident that additional samples will continue to be safe,” said Safety Officer Rob Vest.

EPA guidelines state that no more than .01 percent of asbestos fibers can exist per cubic centimeter of tested air if the building is in use for eight hours a day, said Cindy Darling, senior environmental consultant with Aires Environmental of Batavia.

Tom O’Connor, director of environmental health for the Chicago Lung Association, said that the reading is not as important as the condition the asbestos is in. Asbestos is more dangerous when it is in a loose or crumbling state, he said.

Vest declined to release the asbestos level readings from the Graham Hall incident to The Northern Star on the advice from investigating officials. An Environmental Services representative was not available for comment.

Dean of Education Charles Stegman said his department did not have any serious setbacks in office work because of the closing. College of Education offices were temporarily relocated to Gable Hall while Graham Hall was closed.

Office work was shifted back to Graham Hall by Friday, when only half of the third floor and the entire fourth floor were closed off.

“With cleanup proceeding smoothly and early monitoring showing such small (asbestos) levels, I’m confident that classes can be held as expected beginning Monday,” Stegman said.