University of Buffalo Renovations Delayed Due To Asbestos

Illustration of potential asbestos exposure in a building

“Heart of Campus” renovations at University of Buffalo (UB) in New York have been pushed back due to asbestos, a known human carcinogen, in the Oscar Silverman Library of Capen Hall. The first phase of the renovations was supposed to start in April to include the third floor of the library.

The actual removal began on Wednesday under the direction of UB’s Associate Director of Environmental Health and Safety, David Vasbinder. “People get very concerned when they hear asbestos, it can be dangerous if it’s not being handled properly,” said Vasbinder. “If anyone thinks they may have been exposed to asbestos, our office is where they report it to.”

Exposure to asbestos particles is one of the principal causes of mesothelioma cancer. As a naturally occurring mineral with useful commercial application, asbestos is found in plumbing, insulation, and other building materials and products. Some 30 million pounds of it is still used each year in the United States.

Last year, asbestos was discovered in the floor tile and joint compound on Capen Hall’s first floor. The Silverman Library’s vinyl floor tiles were made with the material in the 1960s and 70s. UB is required to abate the asbestos before beginning renovations again. And New York State requires universities to have flyers up 10 days before removal.

Currently, no one can enter the library’s third floor. Nancy Hutchison, UB’s Asbestos Program coordinator, and her team met with staff and faculty who work on the floor. She explained the removal process and answered any questions.

“We are concerned they [asbestos particles] will get airborne because they cause various diseases when exposed,” Vasbinder stated. Asbestos cancer, or more commonly known as mesothelioma, is among the diseases. It’s the number one type of cancer associated with asbestos exposure; a malignancy that occurs in the lining of the lungs, abdomen, and heart.

When the asbestos is in good condition, it does not present a hazard, but when it becomes worn or damaged the fibers may flake off and become airborne. At that point, it’s possible for anyone in the vicinity to inhale these toxic fibers, which in turn, can become embedded in the chest. The chance of developing mesothelioma is in direct proportion to the duration and amount of asbestos exposure that an individual sustains.

Vasbinder said Epic Contracting Inc. is preventing the asbestos particles from going airborne with a “control method” of plastic sheeting and negative air. Outfitted in respirators and jumpsuits, the contracts can then ensure that if something goes wrong in the abatement area then it doesn’t get outside the containment area as well.

High-efficiency particulate arrestance (HEPA) filters have also been set up so if any asbestos fibers become airborne, they will be filtered out. Air samples will serve as a double check conducted by Watts Architecture and Engineering. They’ll be the third-party watching over Epic Contracting Inc.