Benedum asbestos cleanup safe

By Lindsay Carroll

Construction workers have found asbestos at renovation sites in Benedum Hall, but Pitt… Construction workers have found asbestos at renovation sites in Benedum Hall, but Pitt officials aren’t worried.

After it’s finished, the new building will be the focus of Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering.

But renovating old buildings in Pittsburgh often comes at a price.

Pitt spokesman John Fedele said many older buildings around the world were built with materials that contained the hazardous material.

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He said that while asbestos is embedded in building materials, it’s not a danger.

Exposure to asbestos only occurs when the materials are disturbed in some way ‘- for instance, when a building is being renovated, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Web site.

The materials can release the asbestos fibers into the air at concentrations that are especially high.

People inhale the fibers if the asbestos removal is not managed correctly, said Fedele. The fibers lodge into lungs and can eventually cause illness.

Bernard Goldstein, a professor in Pitt’s Graduate School of Public Health, said asbestos concerns are mostly for construction workers, who could be at risk with long-term exposure to asbestos materials.

Goldstein said for Pitt students, asbestos is nothing to worry about.

In fact, there’s always a small quantity of asbestos present in the air we breathe.

But that doesn’t mean they should take unnecessary risks, he said.

‘I would not be running through the construction site,’ said Goldstein. ‘People that are licensed to remove asbestos are trained to remove it without causing harm to themselves or to people in the community.’

One of the main concerns, he said, is asbestosis, a disorder that can cause scarring on the lung tissue and shortness of breath.

Another concern is mesothelioma, a rare cancer that causes shortness of breath, chest pain, a persistent cough and sometimes death.

When the materials are contained, exposure risk is minimal, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

Most diseases occur after at least 15 years of asbestos exposure.

‘Intact building materials pose no health risks,’ said Fedele in an e-mail. ‘The presence of asbestos in a building does not mean that the health of building occupants is endangered.’

Regulatory agencies use special X-rays to identify asbestos and estimate how much is present the material, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

Fedele said that Pitt has a ‘robust program’ to manage the removal of materials containing asbestos.

Pitt also asks the Allegheny Health Department for approval of their program.

‘Pitt uses nationally accepted methods that follow federal and local standards when disturbing or removing the asbestos-containing materials,’ said Fedele. ‘The intent of the standards is to prevent asbestos exposures in building occupants and in workers handling asbestos-containing materials.’

Asbestos is a fibrous mineral that was often used for insulation, ceiling and floor tiles, adhesives and cement pipes in older buildings.