Asbestos Maintenance at CUMC
The Asbestos Maintenance Program at Columbia University Medical Center ensures a safe and healthy environment for all staff, faculty, students and visitors from unsafe exposure to asbestos and asbestos-containing materials. The program is designed to oversee all projects impacting asbestos containing building materials (ACBM) within academic, administrative, research and residence halls. The main focus is protecting the environment and complying with federal, state, city regulations, with a minimum impact on the community.
CUMC Compliance provides technical support, training and information, consultation, and periodic audits of asbestos projects to ensure safe work practices and regulatory compliance.
What is asbestos?
The term "asbestos" refers to a group of naturally occurring fibrous minerals found in soil and rocks
around the world. These minerals are composed of magnesium, silicon, and other elements. Due to its
unique properties, asbestos has been used as an insulating material since ancient times. Exposure to
asbestos fibers can cause asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma, another type of cancer.
Where is asbestos used?
Before 1980, asbestos was used in construction products such as pipe insulation, vinyl floor tiles, thermal system insulation, spray-on fireproofing for beams and ceilings, roofing felts, coatings and glues, and boiler insulation.
Is asbestos present in CUMC buildings?
Yes, asbestos was used during the construction of buildings until the 1970’s. At the medical center, the administrative, academic, and housing properties are known to have asbestos containing building materials (ACBM) in good physical condition, which do not pose health risks. Facilities Compliance monitors proper maintenance and, when required, safe removal of asbestos.
Can I tell if something is asbestos?
No. It is not possible to visually determine if the substrate contains asbestos unless the material is labeled. If you have any questions about asbestos call the CUMC Asbestos Coordinator, Yvonne Wojcicki at 212-305-0776 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
How is asbestos managed on campus?
CUMC takes several steps to ensure a safe and healthy work environment on campus. Prior to any renovation, an environmental consultant determines through survey and/or sampling if asbestos is present and if it would be impacted during renovation. If the substance in question is damaged or will be impacted during renovation, a licensed asbestos abatement contractor will perform asbestos abatement. A third party environmental consultant is retained to monitor the work and airborne levels of asbestos during removal activities.
What should I do if I encounter asbestos on campus?
Asbestos may be present in many occupied buildings on campus. If asbestos is intact and in good condition it poses no health risk. However:
- Do not damage or disturb floors, walls, and ceilings without contacting the asbestos coordinator.
- Do not remove carpets since they may be glued with adhesive that contains asbestos. In addition, tiles that may contain asbestos may be under the carpet and may be damaged when removing the carpet.
- If you notice damaged floor tile, walls, ceilings, or pipe insulation, inform your supervisor or the CUMC asbestos coordinator and do not touch or disturb the substrate.
Should I stay home when asbestos is being removed from my building?
No. The medical center follows all safety precautions in accordance with applicable federal, state and city regulations to ensure asbestos is removed and handled safely. These regulatory authorities closely monitor asbestos removal (i.e. abatement), and all projects are subject to frequent unannounced inspections by these authorities. Additionally, the purpose of the environmental consultant is to physically monitor all aspects of abatement activities.
The health and safety of all building occupants is of paramount importance to Columbia University Medical Center, thus the asbestos maintenance program is one of the most highly regulated compliance programs at the medical center.
Am I at risk if an asbestos removal project is taking place adjacent to where I work or live?
No. All asbestos removal projects are preceded with detailed work plans defined by federal, state and city regulations. These work plans include full encapsulation of the work area and removal methods that prevent the spread of asbestos fibers into the air. Additionally, the environmental consultant conducts air monitoring and is physically present for the duration of the project. Finally, no space is permitted to be re-occupied until a final clearance is issued by the environmental consultant.
How do I know if an asbestos removal project is scheduled to happen near where I work or live?
Federal, state and city regulations require occupant notification, which is accomplished at the medical center through advance posted notifications and other forms of communication when feasible. It is each individual’s responsibility to pay attention to all notifications issued by the medical center.
How do we know that the work area is safe to occupy after an asbestos removal?
CUMC employs a third-party environmental consultant firm to conduct a final visual inspection and air testing after the removal of asbestos containing material and before the area is reoccupied. Final clearance is only given when area is safe to occupy.
What is vermiculite?
Vermiculite is a natural substance that has been used in various industries for over 80 years. It is used in the construction, agricultural, horticultural, and industrial markets. Although not all vermiculite contains asbestos, some products such as spray on fireproofing were made with vermiculite that contained asbestos until the early 1990s. To determine if vermiculite containing materials may contain asbestos, the material must be sampled for vermiculite.