Washington State University
Environmental Health & Safety Asbestos Information

Asbestos Awareness – Fatal Fibers


General Information

Although not common in recent times, for many years asbestos was a common building component. It was considered the wonder mineral… cheap, plentiful, heat resistant, and chemical resistant. For these reasons, asbestos was widely used in many building materials. Although some buildings on campus have had the asbestos removed, many asbestos-containing products still remain.

Avoiding Exposure

Possible asbestos containing materials should not be disturbed so the fibers do not become airborne. In general:

  • Do not try to repair or renovate University building space yourself
  • Do not install equipment yourself that requires connection to University facilities (like pulling computer cable through ceiling or wall spaces)
  • Call for an inspection before starting a project that could involve asbestos Custodial and Maintenance
  • Workers:
  • Be careful not to damage building materials and surfaces that may contain asbestos
  • Buff floors only if there is an adequate amount of finish
  • Strip floors using wet methods
  • Wash windows only if the putty is in good condition
  • If you are asked to clean-up construction debris, contact your supervisor first
  • Report damaged ceilings, walls, pipe insulation or other building surfaces to your supervisor
  • Avoid drilling through possible asbestos containing material, moving suspended ceiling tiles, abrading popcorn ceilings, cracking or scratching asbestos flooring, tearing pipe insulation, or any other action that disturbs the matrix of the asbestos material.

If asbestos containing materials become damaged, do not attempt to clean it up. Stay out of the area and report it to your supervisor. Supervisors will report asbestos damage or debris to Facility Operations Construction Maintenance, who will have trained asbestos workers clean up the debris and repair the material.

Getting Assistance

If you have questions about possible asbestos materials in your work area, please contact EH&S at 335-3041. The WSU Asbestos Management Program is available online. In addition, EH&S maintains an online database of known asbestos-containing areas.

Health Risks

Intact asbestos materials do not pose a health threat. But if the material becomes damaged or deteriorated, asbestos fibers can be released into the air and inhaled. Asbestos fibers are inhaled through the bronchial tubes to the bronchioles and are embedded in the alveoli. Exposure to elevated levels of these microscopic fibers has been linked to lung cancer and other serious health problems, such as asbestosis (excessive scar tissue on the lungs that restricts breathing) and mesothelioma
(cancer of the lining of the chest cavity). The odds of getting asbestos-related illness increase with the level and duration of exposure.

Recognizing Asbestos Products

Common asbestos products include floor tile, linoleum, pipe insulation, tank insulation, ceiling tiles, popcorn ceilings, textured walls, fireproofing, lab counters, fume hoods, roofing shingles and tar, gaskets on pipes, ovens, furnaces
and other equipment.

Asbestos Inspection and Training

EH&S, in conjunction with Facilities Operations, is systematically surveying
the entire campus to determine where asbestos products are located. In addition,
EHS monitors asbestos removal and repair to ensure that building occupants are not
exposed to asbestos fibers and conducts periodic asbestos awareness training to help prevent accidental exposures to asbestos.

Asbestos Abatement

Facilities Operations ensures that asbestos materials are handled in a safe manner. All suspect materials are sampled prior to renovation and demolition projects. If asbestos is identified, certified asbestos workers remove asbestos (abatement) in campus buildings before routine construction and maintenance projects to ensure
that it is not accidentally damaged. In addition, to meet the goal of maintaining asbestos in good condition, trained asbestos workers repair damaged asbestos.

An asbestos warning sign will be posted at entrances to the work area. If you see this sign, do not enter the area for any reason. Only trained, authorized personnel may enter.