Smithsonian Grapples with Storage Issues, Including Asbestos

The Smithsonian Institution, the world’s largest museum complex, has everything from dinosaur bones to ball gowns among its massive holdings. And, as Smithsonian Inspector General Scott Dahl recently told Congress, the museum also has asbestos in some of the temporary buildings that warehouse its collection.

Maintaining the 137 million items in the Smithsonian’s collection comes with many challenges including how to store all the artifacts not on current display. According to a recent Washington Post article, the current storage facility was built in the 1950s and was never intended to be a permanent solution to the problem of where to house the collection. The Post goes on to reveal that “hazardous materials, such as asbestos,” were found in some of the storage buildings.

“We’re trying to move all the [items] out of the buildings,” said G. Wayne Clough, secretary of the Smithsonian. “We would prefer not to use them.”

Given the age of the buildings, it is no surprise that some contain asbestos. Asbestos fibers were commonly added to construction materials used in commercial and residential building well into the 1970s to enhance the strength, durability, and fire resistance of such products as wallboard, insulation, and vinyl flooring.

The Environmental Protection Agency states that “asbestos-containing materials that aren’t damaged or disturbed are not likely to pose a health risk.” But potential problems can arise from the natural decay that comes with an aging building. Asbestos-containing products that are crumbling, torn, or damaged in any way can release asbestos fibers that are known to cause mesothelioma and other types of aggressive cancers.

The challenge the Smithsonian is facing is with regard to asbestos is not unique. As older, asbestos-containing buildings continue to age, they will need to be repaired or demolished. Either instance presents the challenge of disposing of the asbestos-containing materials properly, using a licensed, asbestos abatement professional.

If you or a loved one has been exposed to asbestos and diagnosed with mesothelioma, contact Sokolove Law today to see if an asbestos attorney can help you.