Campus life means dealing with a lot of new things – from meal plans to roommates. But one thing no student plans on dealing with at college is asbestos.
Yet asbestos – a known cancer-causing substance – can frequently be found on campus, as students at Texas Tech University (TTU) recently learned. According to the student news site Hub at TTU, 97 out of 252 buildings at the university contain asbestos. All but two of these buildings are currently occupied either by students, faculty, or staff.
Asbestos was routinely used in construction materials before 1980 due to its strength and ability to resist heat, so it is not surprising to find it at TTU. The university was established in 1923 and its campus contains many older buildings.
However, studies have shown that exposure to asbestos can cause devastating diseases such as mesothelioma, a rare and deadly cancer. In the United States, there are 3,200 mesothelioma cases diagnosed annually.
Like most universities, Texas Tech has policies in place to protect students, faculty, and staff from exposure to asbestos. Removing all of it would be nearly impossible, and public health officials believe that undisturbed asbestos within building materials is not likely to pose a health threat.
However, construction, renovation, or normal wear and tear to materials that contain asbestos can release microscopic fibers of it into the air. If asbestos fibers are inhaled, they can lodge in the lungs and eventually lead to mesothelioma or other asbestos-related diseases.
Most of the asbestos on campus is contained in “materials that can’t be broken or crushed with hand pressure,” Paul Cotter, asbestos compliance manager for TTU, told Hub at TTU. The university enforces strict rules governing its handling and removal.
Additionally, the university’s policy mandates that the maintenance staff be trained to recognize asbestos in potentially dangerous condition (such as cracked or frayed building material), and that any building where asbestos fibers may have been released be immediately evacuated.
TTU is clearly prepared to keep a watchful eye on asbestos – and the health of its students and staff – in the years ahead.