Asbestos Maintenance

Columbia University Medical Center's asbestos maintenance program ensures a safe and healthy environment for our staff, faculty, students, and visitors and prevents exposure to asbestos and asbestos-containing materials. We oversee projects impacting asbestos-containing building materials within campus buildings, protecting the environment and complying with federal, state, and city regulations.

CUMC's Campus Life Safety and Regulatory Compliance provides technical support, training and information, consultation, and periodic audits of asbestos projects.

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.

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 1970s. CUMC's administrative, academic, and housing properties are known to have asbestos-containing building materials in good physical condition, which do not pose health risks. Campus Life Safety and Regulatory Compliance monitors proper maintenance and, when required, the safe removal of asbestos.

Can I tell if something is asbestos by looking at it?

No. It is not possible to visually determine if the substrate contains asbestos unless the material is labeled. If you have questions about asbestos, call CUMC Asbestos Coordinator Yvonne Wojcicki at 212-305-0776 or email yw2366@columbia.edu.

How is asbestos managed on campus?

Before any renovation, an environmental consultant determines if asbestos is present. If the substance is damaged or will be impacted during renovation, a licensed asbestos abatement contractor performs asbestos abatement. We hire a third-party environmental consultant 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.

For your safety:

  • 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. Tiles that contain asbestos may be under the carpet and can be damaged when removing 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.

Is it safe to be in my building while asbestos is being removed?

Yes, as long as you do not enter any areas that have been sealed for removal (i.e. abatement). We follow all safety precautions in accordance with federal, state, and city regulations to ensure that asbestos is removed and handled safely. Regulatory authorities closely monitor asbestos removal, and all projects are subject to frequent unannounced inspections. An environmental consultant physically monitors all aspects of abatement activities.

Your health and safety is of paramount importance to us. The asbestos maintenance program is one of the most highly regulated compliance programs at CUMC.

Am I safe if an asbestos removal project is taking place adjacent to where I work or live?

Yes. All asbestos removal projects are preceded with detailed work plans defined by federal, state, and city regulations. These 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. No space can be reoccupied until the consultant issues a final clearance.

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 that all occupants be notified prior to asbestos removal. We will post notifications in advance and through other forms of communication when feasible. Please pay attention to any notifications from CUMC.

How do you know that the work area is safe to occupy after an asbestos removal?

After removal, a third-party environmental consultant firm conducts a final visual inspection and air testing. Final clearance is only given when area is safe to occupy.

Are there regulations that protect workers from the hazards of asbestos?

Yes. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration sets standards to protect workers. CUMC abides by general industry and construction standards, which cover engineering controls and work practices, hazard communication, and signage, as well as training and record keeping. See more information on the OSHA Fact Sheet on Asbestos.

What is vermiculite?

Vermiculite is a natural substance that has been used in the construction, agricultural, horticultural, and industrial markets for over 80 years. 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.

Whom should I contact if I have any questions or want to report suspected asbestos?

Contact the CUMC Asbestos Coordinator, Yvonne Wojcicki, at 212-305-0776 or yw2366@columbia.edu.