Asbestos to Be Removed from Andover Inn During Renovations

Members of the Phillips Academy OPP will keep a vigilant lookout for potential health risks on campus, chief among them asbestos and polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs. The Andover Inn, which recently began undergoing extensive reconstruction, contains asbestos in some of its internal piping. “We do have asbestos still in a number of buildings. It is carefully monitored to ensure that it does not present any health threat. Our safety and management practices are often more stringent than the State and Federal guidelines,” said Michael Williams, Director of Facilities. Such buildings include Bishop Hall, a boys dormitory. PCBs, which are naturally occurring organic compounds, were heavily used in the 1960s and 1970s in construction sites of office buildings, college facilities, and other large structures. According to the September 6 article in the Boston Globe, the compound was a primary ingredient in interior and exterior window, door, and brick caulking, and was also used in industrial paints and adhesives to help stick tiles and wooden objects. “We do not [yet] know if there is any caulking on campus with PCB’s and await EPA guidance for testing and management of this material,” said Williams. “All known PCB’s have been removed. Because research proved that certain varieties could be detrimental to human health, PCBs were banned in the late 1970s. According to a September 28 article in the Boston Globe, as the PCBs in caulking age and deteriorate, the PCBs break down into ingestible particles and vapors. If these vapors are inhaled in large enough quantities, it could cause cancer and other development and neurological problems. As a result, members of the OPP have been keeping a close watch on PCB levels in some of the older buildings on campus. If it is deemed necessary, the Academy is ready to begin renovations on campus to eliminate the toxic threat. Williams said, “We removed our transformers containing PCBs many years ago, and now are monitoring the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] research on the caulking. We will review their suggestions when they are issued, and in the meantime we are monitoring any caulking which is disturbed during construction or maintenance.” “We have a very capable environmental health and safety team in our department and they are well trained in this broad field,” added Williams. “They have many years of experience with many materials and do extensive research when needed.” According to the Boston Globe, the EPA requires buildings with PCB levels above 50 parts per million to undergo repairs to remove the potentially dangerous compound. The EPA, however, does not require buildings to actually begin testing or monitoring their PCB levels. Still, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health strongly recommends that schools evaluate and monitor their caulking for potentially harmful toxins. In addition, the state Division of Capital Asset Management recently released a statement which required construction projects involving masonry or window repairs to test for PCB. The Boston Globe also reported that as a result, an assortment of New England schools has begun renovation to improve health concerns on their campuses. Berkshire Community College in Pittsburgh found PCB levels of 72,000 parts per million in some of its campus caulking, has invested $5,000,000 in a restoration plan. The University of Rhode Island had similar problems in its science facility, and spent up to $3,500,000 to eliminate the toxins. During the summer, New Bedford High School also underwent renovations to remove adhesives, paint, and foam in two classrooms after they tested positive for harmful chemicals. The presence of PCB in older buildings is not uncommon. The September 28 article in the Boston Globe cited a 2004 Harvard study in which 8 arbitrarily chosen buildings out of 24 in the Greater Boston area were found to have potentially life-threatening levels of PCB. These buildings included 3 schools, university student housing, a classroom, and a synagogue. A recent estimation says that between 1/3 and 1/2 of all buildings constructed before the 1960’s or 70’s may contain harmful amounts of PCBs in their caulking. Also of particular concern in older New England schools is the safety of some of the piped water in older buildings and dormitories. In the past, dormitories including Paul Revere placed stickers besides taps informing students to let the taps run before using them. However, Williams noted that the water is not contaminated in any manner, and is perfectly safe to ingest. “Actually… the water is fine to drink. Over the years we have replaced most of our water distribution piping. We also monitor the water and the Town testing results for quality. We will post signs if we discover any problems [with the water supply].”