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UM president apologizes for asbestos disruption at McGill Hall

Posted at 8:18 PM, Feb 08, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-08 22:18:35-05

In a letter sent Friday afternoon to the University of Montana campus, president Seth Bodnar  apologized for the asbestos situation found at McGill Hall.  Last week, UM officials closed McGill Hall after officials found unsafe levels of asbestos in the building.  Now further testing reveals, that none of the air samples tests have found asbestos fibers at detectable levels.

Below is Bodnar’s letter:

Dear Campus Community,

I write to provide an update on the status of McGill Hall. As you may have heard, we now know that none of our air sample tests throughout the building have found asbestos fibers at detectable levels. Air sampling is the industry standard for determining health risk in a space, and air samples without detectable fibers indicate a space safe for occupancy.

In sharing this information with you, I want to say that I am sorry, both as a father and a colleague, for the disruption, uncertainty and anxiety the situation has caused. The safety of our campus community is extremely important, and I have directed our team to prioritize this in all of our decision-making on this issue.

While asbestos research worldwide is ongoing, and in some cases incomplete, I want to share with you what we do know regarding our own campus, as well as provide some insight into how we are handling this situation.

From the beginning, we have consulted extensively with and followed the advice of state and national health organization experts, as well as specialized and certified industrial hygienists, and we will continue to follow their recommendations. As we have learned additional information, we have posted it to the campus informational asbestos website and will continue to do so. On that site you will find answers to frequently asked questions, test results, links to useful resources, and links to a video of Professor Curtis Noonan’s lecture on childhood exposure to asbestos and Associate Professor Julie Baldwin’s fact sheet on asbestos. The website also links to the UM Asbestos Feedback Form for submitting questions and comments, which we will route to the people who can address them.

Given the information the certified industrial hygienist shared with us this week, you might wonder why we decided to close the building in the first place, and I want to provide some context. Since the discovery of asbestos in an office suite in McGill Hall, we have made all decisions with our people’s safety in mind and with the information we had at the time. When asbestos was discovered in an office in McGill, we followed protocol by isolating the office suite, which ran on its own separate HVAC system, abated the asbestos and cleaned the site, followed by air testing. At that time, we had no reason to believe there were asbestos issues in other parts of the building. However, following additional visual evaluation of other locations, we made the decision to proactively test in the daycare area. When the air samples came back below detection levels but the surface levels indicated the presence of asbestos fibers, we decided to move the children out of the daycare facility. We also elected to perform air and surface testing in other McGill Hall locations.

To date, all air tests that we have conducted have indicated that there is not a health risk in McGill Hall. We also have learned from the certified industrial hygienists that surface tests do not correlate directly to health risks. Still, we plan to contract with certified asbestos abatement professionals to perform a thorough cleaning of McGill Hall beginning today. Our experts estimate that faculty, staff and students may be able to reoccupy McGill Hall by the end of the month. We want to be absolutely sure that we have provided enough time for all necessary cleaning and testing.

Finally, for those who are concerned about how this disruption in McGill Hall might affect their education or their jobs in McGill Hall, please know that we continue to work on these issues. For our media arts and health and human performance faculty and staff, the Office of the Provost has scheduled two meetings early next week to address the issues specific to your concerns and needs.

As we look forward, we will be proactive. Most buildings, especially those built prior to 1985, have asbestos-containing material. The common practice has been to manage this asbestos in place, and we are now working with experts to review our practices.

This is a challenging situation that I understand causes anxiety and stress, and I assure you that we will continue to do our best to make decisions that are in the best interest of our campus community each step of the way.