Just before the winter break asbestos was discovered in the basement of the Gorham Child Care program facility at 39 School Street.
None of the 50 children who attend the day care program were in the building at the time of the discovery.
After finding traces of asbestos in the basement of the building, Child Care Services was immediately relocated to the Hastings Formal Lounge.
“The asbestos was found in a tile under the top floor during a renovation period by a contractor,” said Al Kirk, coordinator of Occupational Safety and Health Office.
University officials believe the asbestos posed no health risk to any of the children or employees because the chemical is only dangerous once it is disturbed and becomes airborne.
Officials also said the building would be checked for molds that can be present in older buildings.
With the discovery of asbestos and because of the building’s age, it is prudent to test for such things, said Bob Caswell, director of Media and Community Relations.
According to Caswell, he was not sure if any mold checks were conducted yet.
As for the asbestos, “All the testing was of the environment, since it was such a minimal amount of asbestos, employee testing was not necessary,” said Kirk. “The area is fine, all asbestos has been removed, cleaned and abated.”
The asbestos found was a minimal amount. If a person were briefly exposed, it would be the equivalent of being in the presence of second-hand smoke, according to Craig Hutchinson, vice president for Student Development.
“The building is elderly,” he said. “Parents of children who attended the child care program were initially alarmed about the asbestos. But there was relief to find out that the exposure was minimal.”
However, the University does not plan to relocate Child Care Services in the building.
The building is being repaired and is vacant for the time being, according to Hutchinson.
However, future use may include classroom space for the Music and Theatre departments or business conferences held by the University.
Currently Child Care Services continues to use Hastings Formal Lounge. This has not had a major affect on other groups who were scheduled to use the space, said Hutchinson.
“To my knowledge everyone has found a new space, only two classes needed to be displaced,” said Hutchinson.
However, the relocation will pose a big challenge during the summer months, when conferences are held in the Hastings Formal Lounge, according to Hutchinson.
Yet, presently there is no other space options for the Child Care program.
Members of the program feel the lounge space is very good and has continued with a daily routine said Allyson Dean, program director of Child Care Services.
“My feeling is that we will be using Hastings Formal Lounge for a while. Parents use the Gorham site because that geographically works for them and Portland Childcare services already has room constraints,” said Dean.
According to the National Cancer Institute, asbestos is a group of minerals which are strong, flexible fibers that can be separated into thin threads and woven. These fibers are not affected by heat or chemicals and do not conduct electricity. For these reasons, asbestos has been widely used in building materials.
Asbestos found in walls, tiles, and pipes pose no risk, as long as it is not damaged or disturbed in such a way as to release fibers into the air. When asbestos particles are in the air and inhaled, fibers work their way into body tissues. And exposed individuals are at risk of developing an asbestos-related disease.
When in contact with Asbestos for a lengthy period, an individual might develop Asbestosis, which is a chronic lung illness that can produce shortness of breath and permanent lung damage.
In the late 1970’s, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission banned the use of asbestos after discovering it is a health hazard that can cause deadly aliments.
“I felt the staff was very attentive and made a safe decision.” said Denise Nelson, a USM
administrator as well as a parent of two children in the Child Care program, ” The move has been a very positive experience with the change of space, which has made it an exciting good working space for the children and teachers.”
Staff writer Erin Zwirn can be contacted at: [email protected]