What is it?

Asbestos is the name given to a group of naturally occurring minerals used in certain products such as building materials and vehicle brakes. In the past, it was a desirable additive to many products due to its heat resistance, strength and durability.

Where it can be found?

Asbestos beam

Many common building materials that you see every day may contain asbestos. Some of these include floor tile, ceiling tile, mastics (glue) on floor tile and cove base, joint compound, pipe insulation, and fire proofing materials. A more comprehensive list can be found here (WORD).

How dangerous is it?

Danger sign

Asbestos fibers are naturally occurring and extremely aerodynamic which means that everyone is exposed to asbestos. To be a significant health concern, asbestos fibers must be inhaled at high concentration over an extended period of time, accumulating in the lungs. As exposure increases, the risk of disease also increases. Therefore, measures to minimize exposure and consequently minimize accumulation of fibers will reduce the risk of adverse health effects.

Asbestos is only dangerous if it becomes airborne. As long as asbestos containing materials are not damaged, the asbestos fibers do not become airborne and do not pose a health threat the building occupants. During an asbestos survey, inspectors assess the condition of asbestos containing materials. These conditions do deteriorate over time. If you find that an asbestos containing item has been damaged, please contact Facilities Services at 907-474-7000 for an assessment of asbestos in your work area.

More Information

As asbestos fibers accumulate in the lungs, several types of diseases may occur. Asbestosis is a scarring of the lung tissue. This scarring impairs the elasticity of the lung and hampers its ability to exchange gases. This leads to inadequate oxygen intake to the blood. Asbestosis restricts breathing leading to decreased lung volume and increased resistance in the airways. It is a slowly progressive disease with a latency period of 15 to 30 years.

The next type of disease attributed to asbestos exposure is Mesothelioma. It is a cancer of the pleural lining, which is the thin, transparent membrane which covers the lungs and lines the inside of the chest walls. It is considered to be exclusively related to asbestos exposure. By the time it is diagnosed, it is almost always fatal. Similar to other asbestos related diseases, mesothelioma has a longer latency period of 30 to 40 years.

Lung Cancer is a malignant tumor of the bronchi covering. The tumor grows through surrounding tissue, invading and often obstructing air passages. The time between exposure to asbestos and the occurrence of lung cancer is 20 to 30 years.

It should be noted that there is a synergistic effect between smoking and asbestos exposure, which creates an extreme susceptibility to lung cancer. Statistics have shown that cigarette smoking alone increases the risk of lung cancer by a factor of 10 or so; heavy asbestos exposure alone increases the risk of lung cancer by a factor of 5 or so; and the combination of the two independent carcinogens increases the risk factor by about 50 times.

The last few years have seen a number of construction and code corrections projects on the UAF campus. How dangerous is asbestos?   Is there asbestos in UAF buildings?

Undisturbed asbestos is not a hazard and does not pose a threat to employees. Asbestos fibers must become airborne before they become a hazard. That is one reason you see various types of plastic enclosures and protective clothing used when asbestos is being removed from a building. These types of enclosures protect the workers removing the asbestos, as well as the occupants of the building.  The type of asbestos that is most easily disturbed and released is the soft fluffy type found sprayed on high ceilings and steel beams. This type of insulation was used as a fire proofing material up until the early to mid 1970's. After that time asbestos could no longer be used. Any building built on campus after 1980 does not contain asbestos.

Most of the asbestos-containing insulation has been replaced by a similar fluffy sprayed-on cellulose insulation which provides the same type of protection without the concerns associated with asbestos. In the few places where it does exist on campus, the fluffy asbestos insulation is not a hazard unless it is knocked off and fibers are released.

Other more commonly installed asbestos-containing products are floor and ceiling tiles, pipe made of cement, lab counter tops, roofing tiles, etc. None of these materials are a threat unless they are cut with a grinder, saw, or sander, which creates dust and could release asbestos fibers.

Asbestos has been removed from many campus buildings and continues to be removed as it is identified. If you notice any activity that disturbs the soft fluffy type of spray-on insulation, notify Facility Services at 907-474-7000, or EHSRM at 907-474-5413. The insulation may be cellulose, but we would rather no one touch anything until we can verify that.

The list below contains UAF buildings that were either built after 1980 or have been renovated so that the asbestos-containing materials have been removed. Although they should not contain any asbestos products, it is still possible that some materials, such as mechanical gaskets, contain some asbestos.

UAF Buildings built after 1980 or have undergone extensive renovation (not a comprehensive list)

  • BiRD Building
  • Brooks Building
  • Butrovich Building
  • Duckering Building
  • International Arctic Research Center
  • Lathrop Hall
  • Reichardt Building
  • Murie Life Sciences
  • Signers’ Hall
  • Student Recreation Center
  • West Ridge Research Building