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Volume 68, Issue 155, Wednesday, July 9, 2003


Asbestos contaminates R. Cullen

By Bridget Brown
The Daily Cougar

Lurking in the shadows of the mold that infected the Roy G. Cullen Memorial Building after Tropical Storm Allison in 2001, a new silent contaminate is now causing concern among faculty members -- asbestos.

The University became concerned with the adhesive attaching the floor tiling in the rooms, which is made of the cancer-causing substance, while remodeling classrooms on the first floor of the building. 

But Associate Vice Chancellor and Vice President of Plant Operations Dave Irwin said that there is no need to worry because major precautions are being taken during the $2 million renovations that are also affecting classrooms at Phillip Guthrie Hoffman Hall, Agnes Arnold Hall and McElhinney Hall.

Rows of desks ripped from the first-floor classrooms litter the hall while contractors remove hazardous asbestos from the Roy G. Cullen Memorial Building on Tuesday.
Pin Lim/The Daily Cougar

The undergraduate classrooms, which will be equipped with a new look English Department Chairman John McNamara said will "liven up the learning atmosphere," are to be completely sealed and secured during the renovation process to ensure that the asbestos fumes will not leak.

"We will shut off mechanical systems to the rooms and place plastic on the air vents. There will be constant air checks by environmental monitors," Irwin said. "It is our legal requirement to shut everything down in the event that the environmentalists find that the contract workers are not going by guidelines."

Faculty members, whose offices reside in the building, were told about the asbestos during a meeting Friday, where Irwin made the same assurances to the staff and offered to move office spaces if the conditions were still troubling.

But several staff members said the construction environment was not completely protected Tuesday during the first day of restoration. Workers had begun removing desks that were secured to the tile without sealing off the area from the rest of the building first. After complaints were made, just as promised, production seemed to stop for the day.

A similar event happened years ago when all offices and classrooms in the building were relocated to the Athletics/Alumni Center because of asbestos in the same wing, said Dave Byrnes, the department's international student counselor for language and culture. He said many problems arise in the building because of its age.

"The chances of anything happening are very remote in my opinion," said Byrnes, who was in attendance at Friday's meeting.

The situation is not dangerous or harmful therefore students have not been alerted, Irwin said. A secured area will be presented to calm fears, but if contamination occurs, there would be little warning. In most situations asbestos poisoning doesn't take effect until years later.

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