New Lounge Brings Asbestos Worries

Linda Monacelli


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Before winter break, Northeastern Illinois University (NEIU) began renovating the student lounge in the basement of the E building. Among other things, the carpeting was removed, and beneath the carpet tiles was a significant amount of asbestos.

Many people have heard of asbestos and its hazards, but they don’t really know what it is, where it is found and when it becomes hazardous. According to the Health & Safety Executive of Great Britain (HSE), asbestos is a “naturally occurring fibrous material that has been a popular building material since the 1950s. It is used as an insulator (to keep in heat and keep out cold), has good fire protection properties and protects against corrosion.” As a common building material from the ’50s, asbestos can be found everywhere: in ceiling tiles, internal and external wall paneling, pipe insulation, vinyl and thermoplastic floor tiles, water tanks (pre-1980), boilers and sprayed coatings.

According to Interim Director of Student Leadership Development Veronica Rodriguez and NEIU Safety Coordinator Rick Matus, all of the asbestos was removed during winter break. Matus explained that with any renovation project on campus, asbestos is always removed according to the strict codes of the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA), which is typically applied to dealing with asbestos in elementary and secondary schools (K-12). However, Matus and the NEIU Safety Program Department choose to be on the conservative side and enforce the strictest asbestos removal regulations possible.

Since most of the buildings on campus were built before the 1980s, their infrastructure does contain asbestos. To date, much has been removed, but there are still spaces that have not been touched.  However, Matus reassures the NEIU community that this is nothing to be concerned about because asbestos is “only hazardous if you can inhale it,” and all of what remains on campus is contained within sealed and enclosed spaces. According to the Environmental Health and Safety department of Princeton University, asbestos is only hazardous when it is friable, or “easily crumbled by hand, releasing fibers into the air. Sprayed on asbestos insulation is highly friable. Asbestos floor tile is not.”

The lounge was repainted in NEIU’s colors, blue and gold, and new carpeting was installed. Veronica Rodriguez informs that new furniture will be placed in the lounge, similar to furniture currently found in the Student Union. Two flat-screen TVs with cable are on the way in as well.