The university have admitted an asbestos survey is currently taking place in Vanbrugh B and C blocks, as University staff admit a “high possibility” of the dangerous building product existing in the buildings. If asbestos is found, the University is committed to undertaking the long and costly process of its removal.
There have also been concerns that asbestos may be present in other older campus buildings such as Langwith and Derwent, where it is expected that surveys will also take place.
Jane Whyman, the facilities manager for Zone 6, confirmed the high likelihood of the carcinogenic product existing in college buildings, but moved to reassure students that “there is absolutely no danger to any pupils presently at the University or to any who have left previously”.
However, according to the HSE website, “at least 3500 people in Great Britain die each year from mesothelioma and asbestos related lung cancer as a result of past exposure to asbestos. Annual numbers of deaths are predicted to go on rising into the next decade”.
Asbestos, mixed with cement, was widely used as a building product up until the 1980’s due to its resistance to fire or heat.
However it was banned for use in construction in the mid 1980’s due to the discovery that the inhalation of certain types of asbestos fibres (mainly from the Amphibole group) could cause certain serious illnesses, including some forms of cancer.
The survey, which will continue into week four, is being carried out by Durham based firm MIS Environmental Ltd.
Whyman assured any worried students that the buildings will be subject to airborne monitoring whilst the work is being carried out and if any amount of asbestos is detected it will be dealt with immediately by a licensed contractor.
However, one Vanbrugh student who cannot be named said “there are all these men walking around in full protective clothing, and students wandering around them in dressing gowns. It’s a bit unnerving”.
This is not the first time staff have faced an asbestos scare in university buildings. In October 2004, officials admitted having “known for years” that potentially lethal asbestos existed in the Bleachfield Residences, in which families with small children are housed.
Speaking at the time, Steve Adamthwaite, the principle Environmental Health Officer for the City of York Council said, “I am aware that many of the University buildings will contain asbestos. It goes with the age of contruction”.
In November of the same year, a Breakz events in Vanbrugh was forced to close after another asbestos scare, when an organiser broke through the protective sheeting on one of the walls. Students were immediately evacuated from the area.
However, questions have recently arisen about whether the degree of danger posed by asbestos has been overstated.
When the material is only present in small amounts it is very unlikely that the fibre could be dislodged and subsequently inhaled.
According to the HSE website, most serious illnesses and deaths related to the product are due to past heavy exposures in industries like shipbuilding and railway engineering.
BY Joe Surtees