Construction at York College raises safety concerns

By Valerie Victor & Graciano Clause

        The AC Building Exterior Repairs Project has been designed to renovate a majority of the Academic Core Building’s exterior. The $4.6 million project has been put into effect to correct water penetration from the sides and the roof of York College. The college needs repairs to stop leaks from coming through the building’s waterproofing membrane. Although students notice the scaffolding and are aware of the repairs, some haven’t noticed the Asbestos Abatement notifications plastered on some of the entrances like the Liberty Avenue entrance doors. The notification states that the date of the expected asbestos abatement falls between July 13,2015 and September 30, 2015.

        “The Asbestos is on the roof of the building and on the sides of the building on the exterior, were not doing any asbestos work on the interior,” said James Minto, the executive director of Facilities, Planning and Operations at York College.  The asbestos is present particularly in the fireproofing of the building due the time frame in which the college was built. Laws banning the use of most asbestos containing material were not passed until after the college already existed. The construction therefore has exposed the asbestos material within the building.

        “Asbestos is a fire retardant, and it became very popular in the 1930’s and it has been used throughout construction typically up until the 1980’s and this building was completed roughly around 1986,” said Minto. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) a final rule was issued in July of 1989 under Section 6 of Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) banning most asbestos-containing products. The regulation bans the use of asbestos in products that have not historically contained asbestos, also known as “new uses” of asbestos.

        The use of asbestos was banned because of the health issues it was discovered to have, particularly friable asbestos. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, asbestos can cause disabling respiratory disease and various types of cancer if inhaled. The EPA defines friable asbestos as any material containing more than one percent asbestos that, when dry, may be crumbled, pulverized, or reduced to powder by hand pressure. “If it becomes friable, meaning flaking into the atmosphere it can get into your lungs and cause problems,” said Minto. “The asbestos we have here is not friable its solid which is contained and it’s being removed from the site.”

        Despite the notifications at the entrances of the school and multiple email notifications, some students still claim to be unaware of the situation. “What, we have asbestos?” said Tyrone Gayle, Communications Technology Major, 21. Students are aware of the construction taking place at York College, yet many students do not realize that the construction work and the asbestos abatement are part of the same project. “I didn’t really pay attention to the signs, and I don’t check my Yorkmail account at all,” said Gayle.

After students hear of the specifics regarding the construction on campus and the asbestos work in greater detail, students feel safer knowing that the proper guidelines are being followed to ensure their safety. “After hearing that information I’m a little fearful, but if they’re doing it safely I’m fine with everything that they’re doing to make the school better,” said Gayle.

        While the AC building requires repairs, the exposure of asbestos within the building’s framework makes safety a primary concern around campus, Minto said. “It’s not going to float all over the place, we’re encapsulating it, were bagging it, and were carting it off the property without ever going through the building,” he said. According to Minto, the Dormitory Authority State of New York is the primary contractor in the AC Building Exterior Repairs Project. Minto is in charge of insuring that all the correct protocols are followed and everyone’s health is not at risk. “Our priority is the safety of students, staff and visitors that come to our campus,” he said. “We have licensed contractors here to remove the substance and there is air monitoring that is going on.”       

        Renovations will take a majority of the academic year, but the ultimate goal is to prolong the life of the building and finish repairs in April 2016. As York College’s 50th anniversary of being a C.U.N.Y institution approaches, Minto hopes that the scaffolding will be down in a timely manner so that the campus looks lively for graduation 2016.


Photo Credit: Levar Alonzo,  Rosmady Liriano & Valerie Victor . Slideshow created by Valerie Victor.

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