Signs warning of asbestos cover the Central Campus Recreational Building while under construction. Alyssa Mulligan/Daily. Buy this photo.

As demolition began on the Central Campus Recreation Building last month, signs appeared on the doors of the old building and in surrounding areas warning of asbestos.

Asbestos are carcinogenic particles consisting of six naturally occurring minerals that can create materials resistant to heat, electricity and corrosion. These properties make asbestos an especially common material found in construction, insulation and even the fake snow used in classic movies like the Wizard of Oz and It’s a Wonderful Life

When these carcinogenic particles are released into the air and inhaled, however, they pose a number of risks. Inhalation of asbestos is linked to mesothelioma, asbestosis and lung cancer. Asbestos is also linked to between 12,000 and 40,000 deaths due to exposure-related illness every year in the U.S. 

Today, most exposures are caused by demolition of buildings containing discontinued asbestos products. However, asbestos, if left undisturbed, is not harmful. Students who live in Stockwell Hall, such as LSA freshman Kailey Cullen, have raised concerns about the building’s proximity to the CCRB demolition site. 

“It’s really concerning because I live right next to the CCRB and I walk by it constantly,” Cullen said in an interview with The Michigan Daily. “I have some friends whose room is on the side (of Stockwell) closest to the CCRB, so if they have the window open or something, I’m worried for their health and safety.”

Rackham student Loulou Batta expressed similar concerns to The Daily about the long-term harms of asbestos exposure. 

“If the CCRB has asbestos in it, it obviously cannot be allowed to stand as a functional building,” Batta said. “But then at the same time, obviously it’s dangerous to continue to demolish the CCRB if it’s releasing asbestos into nearby areas and potentially harming the people who are working in the building or near the building. It’s kind of like being stuck between a rock and a hard place.”

Batta also said she hopes the University will take advantage of its extensive environmental health and safety network as demolition proceeds.

“There’s a lot of people for the University to lean on who can help make this as safe as possible as they continue to demolish the building,” Batta said. “It’s a high hope to believe that the University will do that, but I do hope it does.”

In an email to The Daily, University spokesperson Kim Broekhuizen said the University is aware of the issue and taking precautions when dealing with asbestos and the demolition of the CCRB. Broekhuizen assured any worried students that every protective measure was being taken.

“Nearly all asbestos-containing materials are being removed prior to the actual demolition of the building,” Broekhuizen wrote. “The few materials that might remain, as allowed by state and federal regulations, do not release fibers easily. Examples of these materials include roofing tars and foundation sealants.”

Broekhuizen also addressed potential safety concerns for employees working at the construction site. 

“Prior to all U-M demolition projects, surveys are conducted to determine the presence, location and quantity of asbestos-containing materials in a building,” Broekhuizen wrote. “The abatement workers that complete the removal are trained and licensed by the state of Michigan to perform asbestos abatement work. 

The Asbestos Building Survey, performed by the University’s Environment, Health & Safety Services, is intended to help avoid accidental disturbance of any asbestos-containing material. It is available to the public and lists over 100 buildings on campus containing materials with known or presumed asbestos.

Broekhuizen said she was confident in the University’s safety measures.

“The risk of cancer from exposure to asbestos while working or living on U-M’s campus is extremely low due to our proactive asbestos management plan,” Broekhuizen wrote.

Daily Staff Reporter Madison Hammond can be reached at madihamm@umich.edu