Texas Tech University
Scholarly Messenger
We Do Asbestos
By Paul Cotter

The Asbestos Section of Texas Tech University’s Department of Environmental Health and Safety (EH&S) strives to support the department’s mission statement: To provide the highest level of safety, health and environmental support to university activities and stimulate awareness of these issues throughout the university.

One of the primary goals is to provide the faculty, staff, and students with a safe and healthful working environment.

Asbestos Facts

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that has been mined and processed for hundreds of years. The use of asbestos in building materials reached its peak being with the industrial revolution, extending through World War II and into the massive building booms until the 1980s. The various uses found for asbestos led many manufacturers to refer to it as the “miracle fiber.” Some of the many uses for asbestos included fireproofing, acoustical insulation, thermal system insulation, adhesives, decorative plasters, paint textures, sheetrock joint compound, window caulks and waterproofing sealers. In all, more than 5,000 different building materials have been found to contain asbestos.

Many people are under the mistaken belief that asbestos has been banned from use in the United States. In fact, asbestos has only been banned from those building materials whose final matrix is such that the material is friable. Friable means the material can be crumbled or crushed to a powder by hand pressure. Some of these materials would be pipe insulation and fire proofing. However, the ban did not impact the use of asbestos in the manufacture of floor tile, cement pipe, sealants, caulks and adhesives. Due to the liability associated with asbestos, much of the manufacturing of asbestos containing materials is now done internationally. Canada, China, Russia and Mexico are large producers of raw asbestos fibers or asbestos containing materials.

It is hard to believe that something once considered so beneficial to mankind could be so harmful. The problem is the very factors that make the fibers so beneficial such as durability, lightweight, chemically resistant and its hollow core cause it to be resistant to the body’s defenses. Asbestos fibers are easily made airborne, and easily inhaled. Once the fibers are inhaled into the lungs, asbestos related diseases including various forms of cancer can result.

Campus Renovations and Maintenance

Many of the older buildings at Texas Tech University have building materials known to contain asbestos. It is important to avoid damaging the materials, both friable and non-friable, so that asbestos fibers are not released and made airborne. Prior to any type of renovation, maintenance activity, or upgrade, the building materials that will be disturbed are surveyed. An asbestos building inspector will review the plans prepared for the work and discuss the scope of work with the project manager. The project manager may be someone such a department chairman or his or her designee in the case of a small self-help project, a physical plant shop foreman in the case of a maintenance activity, or an architect or engineer in the case of a large-scale renovation. The asbestos inspector will review previous sampling reports and if necessary collect samples of the building materials that will be impacted. A report will be prepared and provided to the project manager. The report will contain information describing the building materials and the asbestos content as well as the requirements for personnel that will be working on the project.

If a determination is made that the disturbance of asbestos containing materials will be required to complete the scope of work, the project manager will be requested to provide a work order request to TTU Physical Plant detailing the work to be performed. An asbestos abatement contractor will be selected. EH&S Asbestos Section personnel will make the appropriate notifications to the state and discuss the engineering controls, personal protective equipment and work practices that will be used to insure the safety of the building occupants. Public notice signs will be posted at the entrance to the building, warning signs will be posted at the location of the work area and department chairpersons and unit managers will be notified by e-mail. Air samples will be collected during the asbestos removal work both for the protection of the employees doing the work and the building occupants. Following the completion of the work, both a visual inspection and additional air sampling will be done to ensure the safety of the building occupants that will be returning to work in the area. Every effort is made throughout the process to ensure the health and safety of everyone involved in the project and everyone in the building as well.

Self-Help Projects

Each building occupant can help. When self-help projects are being planned, it is critical to follow the Texas Tech University Operating Procedure for Self-Help Project (OP 61.35). If the department has personnel that perform maintenance activities, those individuals must complete the two-hour asbestos awareness training to help them identify building materials that might contain asbestos and who to contact in the event a suspect material is found. These actions will help to reduce the potential of an inadvertent disturbance of an asbestos containing material.

If there is ever a question, please contact Environmental Health and Safety, and we will be glad to help you in any way we can.

Paul Cotter is a unit manager in the Texas Tech Department of Environmental Health and Safety.