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Workers might be exposed to asbestos

University says employees safe, IU taking precautions

Dec 1, 2005 | www.idsnews.com

West Virginia University settled a class-action lawsuit last week with 5,000 employees regarding potential asbestos exposure, according to an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Although WVU did not admit fault in its handling and maintenance of the asbestos, it agreed to provide medical monitoring for employees for the next 20 years. Tom Beauchamp, a former employee of IU's Office of Environmental, Health and Safety Management who began work on an asbestos management plan before he was fired from his job in September, said some worker areas at IU, such as steam tunnels and crawl spaces, also provide the potential for asbestos exposure to employees.

"There's plenty of opportunities for workers to get exposed to asbestos," Beauchamp said. "There are lots of minor areas where, if workers go there, they can be exposed."

IU staffs 60 employees who are trained in asbestos compliance, said IU spokesman Larry MacIntyre. He said that as a precaution, they test worker areas for asbestos whenever it is necessary.

"They test anywhere that there's any type of construction or renovation work that could bring asbestos particles into the atmosphere,"

MacIntyre said. "In fact, whenever they contract with someone for construction work there's very specific contract language regarding how asbestos should be handled."

Asbestos is an insulation material that was mostly used in buildings before the 1980s, when it was identified as a carcinogen. Undamaged, asbestos poses no health risks. But when it is damaged, exposure to asbestos can pose health risks, including lung cancer.

MacIntyre said IU inspects areas for asbestos anytime there is a potential for exposure, especially during times of renovation and construction.

"Normally there would not be a reason to do an asbestos check if there's no work being done in a building," MacIntyre said.

Beauchamp said he was led on a tour of a steam tunnel by employees of the Utilities Information Group in May 2004.

"There was plenty of asbestos laying around," Beauchamp said. "The workers said that when it dried, the dust stirred up easily."

MacIntyre said IU's asbestos maintenance protects both students and employees.

"I cannot comment on what may or may not have happened (at WVU)," MacIntyre said. "What I do know is that at IU we have an excellent system in place to monitor our buildings for potential exposure to asbestos and other harmful substances."

MacIntyre also added that IU does not plan to change its system for asbestos management.

"The administration is confident that IU is taking every reasonable precaution to protect employees and students from potential exposure to asbestos," MacIntyre said. "We see no reason to change what we are currently doing. We will continue to be vigilant in our monitoring inspections."

Mike Jenson, associate director of OEHSM, refused to comment on the potential for asbestos exposure to workers at IU.


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