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College Building Closed Due to Asbestos and Other Toxins

The Science Building of San Francisco State University has been indefinitely closed to students, employees and faculty following the discovery of a toxic mix of mercury, lead paint and asbestos dust. The school, which was founded in 1899 is an urban college noted for its large number of international students as well as its high level of student participation in study abroad programs.  The Science Building is the main work and study location for no less than 2,500 students and faculty.

The high levels of the carcinogenic substances were discovered when the campus was running a routine inventory of chemicals. When air quality in a number of the building’s room was tested they came up positive for the hazardous materials and the building was immediately shut down. Fortunately, the testing was done while the school was closed for its winter break, so closing the three-story building did not present an immediate problem, but school reopened for the spring semester on January 27th and the abatement project had not yet been completed, so classes are being relocated.

In addition to finding asbestos, mercury and lead, the campus officials report that their testing also discovered high levels of arsenic and mold. It is unknown at this point whether exposure to these contaminants might have had a negative impact on the health of students and employees who were in the building prior to the discovery, particularly because nobody knows how long the toxins have been present. Health officials are assisting the campus with understanding the implications, as well as with addressing the clean up of the building.

The presence of asbestos is a common cause for concern in buildings that were built prior to the 1980s. Asbestos is a mineral that was widely used as insulation, as well as in concrete, ceiling tiles and even floor tiles. The material is inexpensive, easily accessible and highly flame and fire retardant. Its use was ubiquitous during the war years in the United States. But asbestos has been determined to be a carcinogen, and is the single cause of an always fatal form of cancer called mesothelioma. Mesothelioma forms when asbestos dust becomes embedded in the lining of the lungs, the abdominal cavity and the cavity that holds the heart. The dust is a result of asbestos breaking down from age and wear.

Terri Oppenheimer

Terri Oppenheimer is an independent writer, editor and proofreader. She graduated from the College of William and Mary with a degree in English. Her dreams of a writing career were diverted by a need to pay her bills. She spent a few years providing copy for a major retailer, then landed a lucrative career in advertising sales. With college bills for all three of her kids paid, she left corporate America for a return to her original goal of writing. She specializes in providing content for websites and finds tremendous enjoyment in the things she learns while doing her research. Her specific areas of interest include health and fitness, medical research, and the law.

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