Just because they call it an institution of higher learning doesn’t mean everyone there is all that smart. The University of South Carolina is learning this the hard way.
The university paid $175,500 in fines over the past four years for violating environmental laws designed to stem asbestos exposure on campus.
The State Newspaper, upon a review of Department of Health and Environmental Control enforcement records, included promises of compliance by university officials. Those promises were never fulfilled.
Asbestos violations included renovation projects at three student apartment complexes, a medical school building, and Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia. There also were violations at USC’s branch campus in Lancaster, South Carolina.
“These are not new regulations. They’ve been on the books since the 1980s,” said Brent Kynoch, director of the Environmental Information Association, which serves as an asbestos abatement consultant in Washington D.C. “Without a doubt, the University should have the knowledge and capability of handling this properly.”
The asbestos violations are significant, according to The State, because university employees and at least one student may have been exposed to asbestos, which can cause a variety of serious health issues, including mesothelioma.
In its own asbestos plan, the university estimated that 90 of 200 buildings on campus are contaminated with asbestos. Under that plan, the school wants to coordinate all on-campus renovations with a structured workflow to include asbestos abatement.
Also under the plan, both custodial and maintenance staff will undergo basic asbestos awareness training.
The plan, in part, was the result of the violations and fines that occurred the past four years but were not detailed until The State investigation.
Universities across the country, many with older buildings throughout campus, have been dealing with the issue of asbestos for many years.
Most campus buildings constructed before 1980 have at least some asbestos. Although it still is not banned in the United States, its use has been dramatically curtailed in recent decades.
More than a dozen buildings on the California State University-Northridge campus earlier this year were found to have asbestos that could cause future problems. Regulations are intended to ensure that the deadly airborne asbestos fibers are not dispersed.
At USC, officials downplayed any possible dangers from past violations. Air monitoring tests, according to officials, did not reveal any exposures during the renovations project. Still, the fines are significant in an era of shrinking budgets at state universities.
Breathing the microscopic fibers, even for a short period of time, can lead to health issues if they become lodged in the lining surrounding the lungs.