Asbestos found in Shepherd dorms

March 19, 2004|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - Shepherd College is closing two residence halls for the rest of the spring semester after particles found on a desk tested positive for asbestos, the college announced in a news release Thursday evening.

The extent of the problem is not known, but the cost of repairs might run hundreds of thousands of dollars - or possibly $1 million - per building, college President David L. Dunlop said in a telephone interview Thursday night.

Today, Student Affairs staff members will begin calling the 254 students living in Shaw and Thatcher halls to tell them they will have to find other homes. Both residence halls were built in 1970 and contain spray-on ceiling materials, the college said.


Staff members will help students find homes on and off campus.

The college is closed for spring break. Students are due back Sunday.

Dunlop said an employee who lives on campus noticed that a clump of ceiling material had fallen on a desk.

He said the problem is known as delamination, or materials falling away.

Asbestos - a mineral fiber once commonly used for insulation and as a fire retardant - can lead to an increased risk of cancer of the lining of the chest and the abdominal cavity or lung scarring if it's inhaled in high levels, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Web site.

Small amounts of asbestos in daily life are not necessarily harmful. However, the risk increases if materials containing asbestos are disturbed, the EPA Web site said.

The college plans to abate the asbestos in the two residence halls during the spring and summer, then reopen the residence halls in the fall.

Dunlop said it doesn't appear that any other residence halls or other campus buildings contain the spray-on ceiling material.

Boggs Environmental Consultants of Frederick, Md., tested the particles that contained asbestos, the college said.

"Observable dust on surfaces" was seen elsewhere in Shaw Hall on Wednesday, the college said.

No one answered the phone at Boggs Environmental Consultants' office Thursday evening.

Overcrowding has been a periodic problem in Shepherd College's student dorms when the school years begin.

In August 2002, The Herald-Mail ran a story featuring seven students sharing a Shaw Hall study lounge as a makeshift dorm room.

At the time, a Shepherd official said the college's 12 dormitory buildings have space for 1,048 students. Dunlop said Thursday that those figures still sound about right.

Dunlop said the college does not have an overcrowding problem at this point in the semester. In fact, there are 80 to 100 vacancies because of students who have dropped out, he said.

Students who live locally may move back home. Some will move in with other students.

The college will pay for hotel rooms for students who can't find space on campus or can't return home, Dunlop said.

Dunlop said some scientists believe the actual hazard of asbestos may be exaggerated.

"It can be more of an emotional issue," he said.

Even if further tests come back negative for asbestos, the college will repair the dormitory buildings, whatever the cost, Dunlop said.

"We're going to do it because we don't want to have students at risk (or) have any students worrying about it," he said.

A few years ago, the college replaced floor tiles containing asbestos at Knutti Hall, but that didn't present an airborne threat, Dunlop said.

The college plans to hold a press conference over the weekend to update the situation, he said.

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