Asbestos still lurks in spots around UF
Published: Sunday, October 13, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, October 13, 2013 at 10:13 p.m.
Before renovation could begin at the Reitz Union this fall, workers in protective gear spent two hot summer months removing 9,050 square feet of asbestos-laden plaster coating from the Colonnade at a cost of $182,000.
The asbestos in the exterior coating was discovered during a mandatory inspection required before any renovation, remodeling or demolition work is allowed at the University of Florida.
"Here at the University of Florida, we don't contain it — we made a conscious effort to remove it," said Curtis Reynolds, vice president for business affairs at UF.
The goal, he said, is to "minimize the risk of exposure for students, faculty and staff alike."
As one would expect at a university with a large number of historic buildings, asbestos can be found all over the campus at dozens of locations. Even after spending more than $30 million over the past four decades removing asbestos deemed a health risk by state and federal standards, small amounts remain on campus — mostly in out-of-reach, unoccupied locations such as steam tunnels and basements, and contained in materials such as lab tables and floor tiles.
"I don't think there's a situation where we are exposing any workers, students, faculty and staff to asbestos," said Bill Properzio, director of Environmental Health and Safety at UF.
Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibrous mineral that was commonly used in building materials during the 19th and 20th centuries for its low cost, strength, durability, soundproofing, and resistance to fire, heat and chemical and electrical damage.
But when it became linked to asbestosis, cancer and mesothelioma, the federal Environmental Protection Agency developed regulations limiting the use of asbestos, especially in public buildings.
During the 1980s, the Florida Legislature provided around $22 million to the state university system to remove or abate asbestos on campuses statewide, Properzio said.
His office at UF has a $5 million annual budget and is responsible for administering all health and safety regulations, including asbestos control and abatement.
"We removed a lot of asbestos, and we documented other asbestos that we could find that was not friable, meaning flaking off and causing problems," Properzio said.
He said he didn't have a readily available number of how much asbestos was removed.
By the time the Legislature stopped funding asbestos removal at the end of the 1980s, Properzio said, UF had removed all the most dangerous materials.
What remains is an inventory of asbestos that is a problem only if it becomes broken or damaged, Properzio said.
"Due to our initial abatements in the 1980s, and this periodic review we do, we don't have any unsafe asbestos conditions," Properzio said. "This is not something that's lurking out there. Only if you start tearing down walls and pulling up floors (can you) create a problem."
UF's policy toward asbestos since then is akin to keeping a watchful eye on a sleeping dog: Inspectors monitor the condition of the remaining asbestos on campus, Properzio said. If it's in good shape, they leave it alone. If it's damaged, they hire a contractor to remove it.
How much asbestos has been removed since the targeted funding disappeared would be difficult to calculate, Properzio said. "A lot of the cost for asbestos identification and removal, when required, was embedded in the overall project cost," he said.
A lot of that work was performed by the Campus, Health Care, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences and Housing physical plants, and Environmental Health and Safety doesn't keep the files that have that financial information, he said.
Tom Ladun, the industrial hygiene coordinator for UF, has kept track of those project costs since he was hired in 2005. Since 2005, UF has spent $7.76 million on abatement projects, not including jobs subcontracted under a general contractor or construction manager contract, he said.
Once a year, around October and November, Ladun and a technician go around campus to check on the condition of the remaining asbestos. Their survey sheet has a list of 134 locations currently.
They check floor tiles for wear and tear. They check for crumbling insulation in boiler rooms and steam tunnels. They sample plaster in library walls and fume hoods in chemistry labs. And they take notes about the condition of the material, whether the building has been renovated, and if repairs or removal is required.
When they checked the floor tile at Van Fleet Hall, for example, inspectors noted the tiles were in good condition. But when they saw borderline insulation damage at Yon Hall, they went ahead and removed it, Ladun said, then labeled the new insulation as asbestos-free for future inspectors. That job cost just less than $3,000, he said.
And when friable asbestos was found in the fireproofing in the Communicore basement two years ago, it was removed at a cost of $190,000.
When a renovation, remodeling or demolition project is scheduled, UF hires an asbestos consultant to conduct a more thorough inspection — pulling walls and lifting tiles to determine if any asbestos exists that could get broken up and airborne, potentially getting into people's lungs.
The consulting costs vary by factors such as the size of the area surveyed, the scope of work and number of samples collected, Ladun said.
A small, one-room project can cost between $1,000 and $2,000, he said, while larger projects can run more than $10,000.
"Don't forget that the consultant is also sampling for lead paint and PCBs in caulking in buildings constructed prior to 1978, so that adds to the costs as well," he said.
It was such an inspection that uncovered previously undetected asbestos in the Reitz Union Colonnade floor tile, caulking, pipe insulation and walls, Properzio said.
"The big part was the textured coating on the exterior," he said. "That had never been sampled before, so it was a discovery. A lot of times we discover stuff we didn't know about."
Once that happens, UF must hire a certified asbestos removal contractor, whose price can vary according to the size of the job and the material being removed.
The $182,000 spent on the asbestos removal at the Reitz entailed the contractor putting up plywood containment walls to box off the Colonnade, setting up plastic tents and air monitors with negative air-filtration systems to keep asbestos from getting into the environment, and hauling the material off to a special landfill that handles asbestos.
At one time, UF had in-house teams in almost every department, Ladun said. But because of budget cuts, the university lost its money for salaries and benefits and now hires outside contractors only as needed.
"The cost of abatement came down so much that hiring a consultant is almost as cheap as having people on staff, and there is less risk," Ladun said.
Upcoming projects include removing floor tile from the fourth floor of the Human Development Building in the Health Sciences Center this month, and the removal of three air handlers in the Dental Science Building in November, Ladun said. He said he hadn't received estimates for those projects yet.
Also, IFAS has about a dozen small greenhouses around campus with shelves that contain asbestos, which will be removed whenever there is a break between research projects, he said. That will be handled using in-house staff.
If inspectors come across more dangerous asbestos or if a major renovation is scheduled in a building with asbestos, that asbestos will be removed before it can cause any potential harm.
"Asbestos is only an issue when it becomes airborne," said Ladun, who keeps a sealed vial of asbestos ore in his office. "Sitting on a table, it's not hurting anybody. Blow it up, and it has potential to get into the lungs and develop an asbestos-related disease."