Historically, and to a much lesser extent modernly, building materials incorporated asbestos fibers for strength, insulation, electrical and/or chemical resistance. As awareness concerning the negative health effects associated with asbestos exposure increased, asbestos use was prohibited or eliminated from the manufacture of many, but not all building materials. Airborne asbestos fibers, if inhaled, may become embedded in the alveoli, the tiny sacs in the lungs that facilitate oxygen transfer to the bloodstream. Respirable asbestos fiber exposure 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 likelihood of developing asbestos-related illness increases with the severity and frequency of exposure.
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What are the hazards?
Asbestos fibers only become hazardous when they become airborne and are inhaled. Inhaled fibers cause lung diseases such as asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma. Deterioration or disturbance of asbestos-containing materials through construction, renovation, demolition or remodeling activities can release asbestos fibers into the air if specific procedures are not followed. EH&S has developed policies to protect students, faculty, staff and visitors from asbestos hazards and comply with local, state and federal regulations.
What do I need to know?
EH&S promotes policy ensuring WSU units comply with safety regulations. Individual employees, supervisors and managers of each organizational unit all play a vital role in asbestos safety by understanding and adhering to asbestos policies and procedures developed by EH&S. WSU asbestos policies are found in the university Safety Policies and Procedures Manual 5.22 – Asbestos Safety. Additionally, the WSU Asbestos Management Plan was developed by EH&S to establish protocols and procedures specifically for service departments and contractors that maintain and modify campus buildings.
Asbestos management practices at branch campuses in Spokane, Tri-cities and Vancouver are developed by each respective campus’ EH&S office.
Where is it found at WSU?
Most academic buildings on WSU’s Pullman campus have comprehensive asbestos survey information available to the WSU community. Survey reports are found on the WSU Asbestos Sampling Database maintained by EH&S. In the absence of survey information, asbestos is assumed to be in any building material that is not wood, metal, glass or structural concrete. Common asbestos-containing building materials on-campus include floor tiles, sheet vinyl flooring, wallboard joint compound, plaster, pipe insulation, textured walls and ceilings, and laboratory countertops. Asbestos can also be found in laboratory equipment and textiles such as autoclave door gaskets, ovens, fume hoods, gloves and heat shields.
employee training requirements
All employees must complete online asbestos awareness training provided by EH&S once upon hire: Asbestos Awareness Training
Classroom instructed training may be required in lieu of online training for employees in service departments that maintain campus buildings. Reference the WSU Asbestos Management Plan for further details.
How to prevent asbestos exposure
Intact asbestos materials do not pose a health threat. But, if the material becomes damaged, deteriorated or disturbed, asbestos fibers can be released into the air and inhaled. Use the following measures to protect you and fellow Cougars from exposure to airborne asbestos fibers.
- Be aware that asbestos is present in many buildings on campus. All employees are required to complete online asbestos awareness training once upon hire.
- Reference WSU’s Asbestos Sampling Database for materials that contain asbestos in your building.
- Immediately report damaged suspect asbestos building materials to your supervisor or building coordinator, who can contact Facilities Services at 5-9000 for repair. Alternatively, myFacilites work requests can be submitted for maintenance items that have the potential to damage asbestos materials in your work environment.
- Do not try to repair or renovate University building space yourself, no matter what size of the project. Reference BPPM 80.56 for instructions and procedures to initiate construction, renovation, remodeling and demolition projects.
- Do not install equipment yourself that requires connection to University facilities or access above the ceiling, inside walls, in attics or crawlspaces.
- Do not fasten items to walls with screws, pins, nails or hangars.
- Be careful not to damage walls, ceilings, or floors when moving furniture or equipment.
- Do not brush, sweep, or vacuum damaged building materials.
- Do not enter demarcated asbestos removal areas for any reason.
How do I get assistance?
If you have any questions related to this information or would like EH&S staff to evaluate possible asbestos in your work environment, please call us at 335-3041. Ask for the asbestos staff. Facilities Services, Auxiliary Facilities Services and EH&S together are committed to safely and effectively managing asbestos on campus.