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UMN’s Logan Hall Flood Raises Asbestos Concerns

At the University of New Mexico in Bernalillo County, the lower three floors of the Logan Hall building, which house – among other things – the Psychology Department, were flooded on August 8 as a result of a water valve (which reportedly tends to stick) being left open over some part of the summer session.

Witnesses say the building is almost unrecognizable, with 35 rooms on the west side of Logan Hall ravaged by water. The exact depth the water ultimately attained is unknown, but reports indicate that the third floor was a foot deep at one point.

In spite of that, according to Jane Ellen Smith, psychology department chairwoman, classes will resume as scheduled, even though some professor’s offices will likely have to be relocated.

The damage, which Smith described to the press as “like a waterfall coming through the ceilings”, is exacerbated by the fact that the flooding released asbestos which – according to Safety and Risk Services Officer Joel Straquadine – has resulted in a UNM work crew being assigned to asbestos remediation for most of the week of August 9-13.

While UNM officials monitor the workers to make sure no one gets sick, students negotiate the maze of rooms looking for the new locations of faculty advisors. Water-damaged rooms are protected by plastic tarps over the doorways, signage indicating the danger, and negative air vacuums on the inside to prevent asbestos particles from escaping.

The signs also warn construction crews against entering the rooms without the proper safety equipment, which in this case includes respirators, disposable coveralls, and gloves, hats and boots which remain onsite to prevent any potential spread of asbestos.

According to one worker, who asked not to be identified, the sheetrock walls in the lower levels of Logan Hall contain asbestos. This sheetrock, which was manufactured and sold as late as the 1970s, is safe when undisturbed, but once wet begins to deteriorate and release asbestos fibers.

Fortunately, no other hazardous materials have been identified, according to reports, and university officials are trying to look on the bright side as they search for the money to repair and replace the rugs, furniture and electronics also damaged by the water.

A similar situation arose in Wisconsin, in July, when 80 percent of Nicolet High School (Milwaukee) was destroyed by an actual flood. Nicollet, which in May of this year proposed conducting asbestos remediation while school was in session, caused an uproar among parents, who filed a petition insisting the school board postpone all work until summer vacation.

The damage at Nicolet is estimated at more than $5 million. The flood appears to be merely frosting on a cake of woes that first forced the delay of asbestos remediation, then delayed the start of school because of the flood, and now looks to cost the school district more than it likely has on hand.

Observers hope none of the damage to either Logan Hall or Nicolet High will be to health as a result of asbestos, since both institutions are required to maintain an Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act plan, as mandated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1986.

Sources: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Daily Lobo


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