By Andrew Robbins
CSMS Magazine Staff Writer
Fall has arrived, educational institutions have welcomed new and returning students, and parents have sighed with relief. In a safe environment, their children will obtain a higher education. But, just how safe are these schools of higher learning?
After publishing It Took My Breath Away: One Man’s Experience May Save Your Life, the first respondents were educators at our nation’s prestigious universities. Their comments suggested university classrooms and dorms are not as safe as most parents and students desire. Take for example the instructor who wrote, “I have taught at this institution for 25 years. We had no Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) and no training for handling solvents and heavy metals. Our research revealed many health concerns, mainly cancer, associated with these educational materials. The classroom had no ventilation. A student contacted Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). OSHA investigators determined the filters for the building had not been changed in 12 years. Although it was one of my students who contacted OSHA, the Dean and the Administration blamed me and immediately moved to fire me for talking to ‘outside agencies’. I was forced to seek legal representation.” At a State University, the safety officer reported asbestos disturbed in four student dorms. In response, administrators dismissed this 6-year employee for “inability to cooperate with coworkers.” A prominent vascular surgeon confided, “A boyhood friend and I graduated medical school together. My friend chose to teach new physicians at the university, while I chose to practice medicine. The professor of medicine was diagnosed with mesothelioma. He worked in university buildings which are full of asbestos, and his exposures in office and classroom settings ended his life.” Yet at another university in a newly renovated building, wet earthen-minerals gathered for analysis were temporarily stored in the basement’s dry-room. A ‘dry-room’ is designed to remove moisture from saturated specimens. However, as these materials dried, they disappeared. Those who gathered the samples grew suspicious and began questioning who had access to the dry lab. At the same time, several floors above, other faculty members were quizzing each other on how piles of dirt were accumulating in their locked offices and classrooms. Air forced through the building’s ventilation system had collected the lighter dried specimens and deposited these minerals throughout the building’s upper levels. Sealed windows and doorway airlocks replicated a drinking straw effect where the slightest change in internal pressure moved particulates through the ventilation conduits.Readers will recall a popular television program portraying the host living high above the city in his penthouse apartment. One might think the host safe above the common fray. Nevertheless, no one can predict what the wealthy host’s neighbors are doing several floors below. What if Larry, Moe, and Curly are remodeling their apartment and allowing particulates and mineral fibers (carcinogens) to spread throughout the building via its ventilation system, elevator shafts, or emergency stairwells? We need to learn from these examples and become alert to the health-impacting exposures in our midst. Terrorism takes many forms. Some so innocuous as to be deemed “innocent”. Parents who have spent years protecting and educating their offspring will do well to encourage them to question authority and think for themselves as they leave the nest. Trusting young adults sent off to university are like goslings taking flight at the start of hunting season.Note: Andrew Robbins is the author of It Took My Breath Away: One Man’s Experience May Save Your Life.Also see Implosion: http://www.csmsmagazine.org/news.php?pg=20060910I258