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Asbestos-containing materials found in residence halls, campus buildings

Thomas Ruffin Jr. is one of the Residence Hall that has been found to have asbestos.

According to a July report, 10 residence halls on UNC's campus have asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) — potentially exposing more than 2,700 residents in the past year.  

The University identified ACMs in residence halls Avery, Hinton James, Parker, Teague, Grimes, Mangum, Manly, Thomas Ruffin Jr., Spencer and Morrison. Two dozen other campus buildings also had ACMs, according to the report. 

The amount of asbestos found in materials in the buildings ranged from 2 to 75 percent. Asbestos was found in spray-applied material, plaster, elastomeric coatings, floor tiles and other materials in the residence halls. 

There was 10 percent asbestos found in spray-applied material and 10 percent asbestos found in the elastomeric coatings throughout the entirety of Hinton James Residence Hall. Throughout Morrison Residence Hall, there was 10 percent asbestos in the elastomeric coatings.

The insulation of certain rooms in three campus buildings, Alumni Hall, MacNider Hall and Van Hecke-Wettach Hall, had 75 percent asbestos — the highest percentage presented in the report. 

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral fiber that was commonly used in campus building materials before 1981. There are many materials that could contain asbestos, including flooring, ceilings, walls and thermal system insulation. 

According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, asbestos is not a hazard unless it becomes airborne and is inhaled. This normally happens when ACMs are removed or damaged. 

In extreme exposure cases, asbestos poses serious health risks, including asbestosis, pleural disease, lung cancer and mesothelioma. 

James Rawley, a state certified asbestos inspector and CEO of local asbestos removal company Tracco LLC, said he recommends that UNC remove the ACMs in campus buildings, especially residence halls. 

Rawley said that, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, materials are required to be removed if they contain more than one percent of asbestos and are friable, which refers to any material that could turn to dust if someone rubbed it between their fingers.

Tracco LLC has removed asbestos at other universities, and Rawley said the process requires using professional safety gear and setting up containment areas to prevent any asbestos particles from disturbing other places.

If a material is friable, the asbestos could potentially be inhaled. Rawley said he does not know if the ACMs in UNC's residence halls are currently friable, but that they could become friable in the future. 

He also said there are currently countless people with mesothelioma who were exposed to asbestos dozens of years ago, and he worries the same thing could happen to UNC students down the road. 

“But, if we can correct the problem before that happens, we're ahead of the game,” Rawley said. “I wouldn't take a chance. If I know it’s got asbestos [and] we’ve got enough money, then let's get rid of it.” 

Although ACMs may not pose a current threat to residents, Rawley said he believes the best thing UNC can do is remove it. 

Carolina Housing's mold, asbestos and pest protocol states that unsampled materials in buildings built before 1981 are presumed to contain asbestos unless sampling and analysis indicate otherwise.

"UNC maintains asbestos-containing building materials so they do not crumble and release fibers into the air," according to the protocol. 

The University said any damaged ACMs will be repaired immediately. The protocol asks residents to avoid scraping or damaging ceilings, walls or pipes; to not tape, tack or glue anything to the ceilings or walls; and to make sure lofted beds are no closer than three feet from the ceiling.

According to an email from UNC Media Relations, "Carolina Housing communicates the presence of asbestos in the first safety email to residents." 

First-year Hinton James resident Keller Fraley said that since UNC is aware of the presence of asbestos, the University should tell residents about the problem and give them a plan moving forward.

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Media Relations did not respond to The Daily Tar Heel's further request for comment on what the University's plan of action is to address the current presence of ACMs in residence halls.

Junior Mariana Chavez has lived in both Morrison and Hinton James residence halls. She said no one ever told her there were ACMs in her dorm and thinks this lack of awareness is a communication problem.

“I feel like the lack of communication and transparency shows that it's not just the lack of resources,” she said. “It's a matter of, 'Why isn't this being paid more attention to? Why aren't these residents more aware of what's going on in our building?'” 

A previous resident of Hinton James, junior Tali Hagler, said she is worried there could have been exposure or signs of disturbed material that she was not aware of during her time in the residence hall. 

Looking toward the future, Hagler said the first step UNC should take is to more publicly share information about the contamination with students. 

Chavez also expressed frustration over not knowing more about ACMs.

“It just shows the utter lack of care because if they did care, then they would care enough to educate us on what all these things mean if they are present in the community,” Chavez said. 


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