Officials assure project’s safety

By Peter Schuh

Although there has been some concern voiced for safety during the asbestos-removal project in Swen Parson Hall, NIU officials maintain students, faculty members and staff are safe.

The greatest concerns about the project have been voiced by the Bursar’s Office staff who work in offices adjacent to one of the removal sites.

“There’s been fumes in the hallway and my eyes have been burning all day,” said microcomputer software specialist Helen Ames, who works next to one of the asbestos-removal sites. “One department head right across the hall from my office told her people that they could take vacations. I really think that they should have given us sufficient warning about the removal—no one ever told me.”

Ames said that she felt the effects which the removal had on her eyes and the fumes in the hallway were not directly related to asbestos, but more likely to the machines that were being used to remove it.

Concerns also have been voiced by students who walk by the work sites daily on their way to class.

“Having been a cancer nurse, I always have concerns about asbestos, but I would certainly hope the administration has taken our best interest at heart when they didn’t close the building,” said Marilyn Stromborg, a second-year law student.

“The way in which the asbestos was being removed certainly had the appearance of a dangerous operation, although it may not have been,” law student Jim Mertes said. He said the students who are walking to class see “plastic patched in a rather haphazard manner with duct tape.”

However, Jim Nelson, industrial hygienist for NIU Environmental Health and Safety Department, said that, regardless of appearance, the project is being conducted in a safe manner.

“The project is not of such a magnitude that they need to seal off the room,” Nelson said. “The room is under negative pressure.”

Nelson explained that the “negative pressure” ensures that air only can enter into the room and cannot escape into the hallway. “It’s (the air) put through a high-efficiency filter and there’s a tester for the filter.” The cleaned air is then pumped out through a flexible ventilation duct—the yellow plastic tube which stretches through the overhead portion of Swen Parson’s hallways from the workroom to the outside entrance.

Nelson said student and staff concerns about the use of duct tape to seal torn areas of plastic are unfounded. “It (duct tape) is the number one tool of the asbestos-removal world,” he said. “It’s what the hammer is to the carpenter.”

Student Association President Paul Middleton said although he hoped the project was being conducted in a safe manner, he was looking into it for the sake of the concerned students. “I am basically concerned for the students’ health and well-being, but I am sure that the removal is being done in accordance with all state and federal regulations.”

Admid concerns for health and safety, there has also been a level of apathy among students and staff.

“As I sit here and smoke I guess I’m not worrying too much about the asbestos,” said Bursar’s Office employee Gerri Davidson.

“We’re all going to die eventually,” said Donovan Fechner, a second-year law student.

Nelson said about projects that deal with asbestos-removal, “there’s always some degree of risk, but I feel that the one in Swen Parson is an acceptable one. There is no such thing as a zero-risk in this business.”

Nelson also said the project should be completed this week. “The upside of the project is that there will be a new air-conditioning system,” he said.