Employees of Columbia University in New York City have reached out to their union for support in ensuring they are safe from asbestos exposure. The group fears that an asbestos abatement project may have sent asbestos fibers through the air ducts and into the air in the powerhouse chiller plant where they work.
The chiller plant has been undergoing renovations, and on Jan. 14, according to a Feb. 6 article in the Columbia Daily Spectator, notification was sent out regarding asbestos that was disturbed when asbestos pipe insulation was removed. A subsequent air-monitoring test done for the university found the area safe for re-occupancy.
“The asbestos was found on pipes in the discharge plenum of a fan that blows air through our plant,” said a worker in the plant who asked to remain anonymous, according to the Spectator article. “They removed the asbestos and tested for samples with the fan off. We want sampling done with the fan on to get an accurate reading of what has settled on pipes throughout the plant,” said the worker.
The employees will ask Transport Workers Union Local 241, a union representing workers at Columbia University, the Juilliard School of Music and the Jewish Theological Seminary, to approve an asbestos air test that uses equipment to disturb dust to simulate the work environment.
A spokesman for Columbia Facilities responded, saying, “We listened to the feedback from employees and are exploring further options that will best address their concerns.”
Asbestos has been used in products such as insulation for pipes, floor tiles, building materials, and in vehicle brakes and clutches. However, when asbestos fibers are disturbed and become airborne they can easily be inhaled or ingested by workers or others nearby. Asbestos is a human carcinogen and is known to cause mesothelioma and lung cancer, as well as other terminal diseases.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has stated that there is no safe level of asbestos exposure.
The development of disease symptoms from asbestos exposure can take decades. Approximately 3,000 Americans die from mesothelioma each year, and another 10,000 succumb to some other form of asbestos-related diseases.