Lauren Moore
Campus Reporter

Since the emergence of UAB as an independent university in 1969, its campus has continuously been expanding and revitalizing to accommodate the always expanding UAB staff and student body. However, as new buildings rise, some original, decades-old buildings bring a possible health hazard to students.

“If the building was built before the late 1970s, asbestos may be found in insulation, both batt-type and vermiculite insulation,” said Dr. Michelle Fanucchi, associate professor of environmental health sciences. “It may also be found in spray-on ceiling coatings, in textured paint, in vinyl flooring, in the insulation of heating systems and electrical equipment.”

Many faculty, staff and students alike fear that some of these buildings pose a greater threat than simply being worn down, fearing that there may be potentially dangerous elements to these outdated buildings. One main concern is the threat of asbestos in the building.

“The word asbestos refers to a group of six types of naturally occurring minerals,” Fanucchi said. “All of the asbestos mineral is made up of fine fibers. The material is chemically inert and also fire-resistant. It also does not conduct heat or electricity. These properties make it a sought after component for insulation of all types.”

Van Thursby, director of industrial hygiene with the Occupational Health and Safety Department, is one of the individuals in charge of asbestos control on campus.

“Part of our program here is to make sure that any asbestos that is here is managed properly,” Thursby said. “We manage it by making sure that it is in good condition and that it poses no threat to our occupants. If it gets age on it and starts deteriorating to a point that it may be a possible hazard, we take care of it.”

However, according to Fanucci, simply the presence of asbestos should not be enough to cause concern.

“Asbestos is only of concern when it is ‘friable’ or easily crumbled,” Fanucci said. “If the asbestos is encapsulated, then there is very little risk unless it is disturbed. The risk then becomes when the asbestos is disturbed or aerosolized and amounts are inhaled over long periods of time. If testing reveals asbestos before a renovation or tear-down, then the Alabama Department of Environmental Management has regulatory requirements that need to be followed for removal.”

In case an asbestos issue should occur, campus maintenance personnel are properly outfitted and trained yearly to ensure that they are not harmed. This includes use of half-face respirators and cleaning off when any potential contact has been made.

The department examines every complaint received to ensure that the issue is not asbestos. If any investigation reveals the problem to be asbestos, the material is removed or encapsulated.

“We have air sampling around campus that is constantly making sure that there are safe levels of asbestos in the air,” Thursby said. “When it comes to managing the deconstruction of old buildings, the county oversees UAB. All asbestos is removed before any demolition or renovation can begin.”

James Fowler, director of Planning, Design and Construction at UAB, is one of the individuals responsible for making sure all demolitions of campus buildings stay safe, including asbestos-free.

“Sites are always checked for asbestos, regardless of if we think it is present or not,” Fowler said. “However, the drive of our department is not to get rid of asbestos but rather to simply be updating older buildings on campus, and, as a result, it also takes care of some of the asbestos issues.

Many UAB buildings are scheduled for demolition, including the Worrell Building, the Cancer Research Center, the Jefferson County Department of Human Resources and the 1200 “Food Fair” Building.

If someone finds a potential issue that they would like to report they must fill out a work order. If any issue is found then the matter will be investigated further. The department also works with consultants and contractors on the bigger projects, oftentimes using outside consultants.

Lauren Moore can be reached at lrm33@uab.edu.

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