Asbestos in Porter forces students to relocate

PHOTO BY SHILOH FREDERICK '17

PHOTO BY SHILOH FREDERICK '17

BY ABBY BAKER '19

Last week, residents of Porter Hall’s basement were informed that Facilities Management would be repairing a steam leak on the floor, and in the process removing insulation around a pipe. It was revealed that the insulation contains asbestos.

An email sent to residents of Porter Hall’s basement on March 22 from Director of Residential Life Rachel Alldis said, “I have been assured that there is no risk to anyone’s health during this process, but if you are at all concerned and would like to be given a different temporary assignment, please let me know and ResLife will help you out.”

Alldis said in her email that the repair work would begin on the afternoon of Wednesday, March 22, and was expected to continue until either Thursday, March 30 or Friday, March 31.

According to the Mesothelioma Center, asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral known for its versatility, resistance to heat and insulating capabilities. Asbestos came into common use in the Industrial Age, as its fire retardant properties made it useful for the automobile and construction industries, as well as the military. However, by the late 1970s, the use of asbestos declined in industrialized nations, as knowledge of the health risks posed by the mineral spread.

The National Cancer Institute states that studies have demonstrated that exposure to asbestos can increase the risk of lung cancer and mesothelioma, a rare cancer of the thin membranes that line the chest and abdomen.

The Mesothelioma Center states that, throughout the 20th-century, asbestos was commonly incorporated into construction projects. According to the Mount Holyoke website, Porter Hall was built in 1897 and renovated in 2010.

Asbestos still can be found the country in “buildings, roads, homes, schools, factories, ships, train and automobiles,” according to the Mesothelioma Center. The Mesothelioma Center also states, “Asbestos is virtually everywhere in America.” In 2005, asbestos was banned in the European Union. Asbestos is regulated in the U.S., but is not banned.

A resident of the Porter basement, who requested anonymity to protect her living space, said she had received an email that stated, “it wasn’t very harmful but you could [relocate] if you wanted.” The resident did not realize that the email was referring to asbestos. She noted that she saw “construction in front of someone else’s door, but I didn’t know what it was about.”

The student later added, “It is still really upsetting,” and she doubts that there is no risk to anyone’s health if “the chemical that has leaked is very toxic.”

Another resident of the Porter basement, who also requested anonymity, was aware of the asbestos, but chose not to move out, as the email “said it was safe and I believe that and it would be a lot of work to move out of my room.”

According to Mount Holyoke’s Asbestos Management Policy, published in October 2009, “The Asbestos Contractor will be immediately called in the event of an asbestos emergency ... While waiting for the Asbestos Contractor, Facilities Management personnel must ensure their and others’ safety by staying out of and preventing people from entering the asbestos emergency area.” Examples of emergencies include asbestos debris on the floor and leaks in pipes insulated with asbestos.

Rachel Alldis, when contacted for comment, stated that the repairs took less than 36 hours and “the problem is resolved at this point.” Only one student was asked to temporarily relocate until repairs on the floor were completed.

Mount Holyoke News

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