College removes lead, asbestos

In recent months, the College has discovered lead in Sloan House, as well as asbestos in Bronfman Science Center. The removal process is ongoing, but the College’s Office of Safety and Environmental Compliance believes that no imminent risk exists for students. Asbestos and lead paint frequently present a problem in older buildings and on-campus structures are no exception.

For both buildings, the abatement of the hazardous material is only one goal of construction that is currently underway. In fact, the materials were only detected and removed as a result of other projects that were being undertaken in those locations. “It’s Williams College’s practice to conduct environmental testing before any project even begins, so that we can ensure that any and all hazardous materials are dealt with properly, and to the letter of state and federal law,” Frank Pekarski, manager of Safety and Environmental Compliance, said.

Prior to construction, Facilities, Construction and Design Project managers filled out a form identifying the potential for environmental and health hazards, and the Office of Safety and Environmental Compliance coordinated all of the necessary testing. Ultimately, outside contractors were hired for both structures prior to construction in order to assess the presence of hazardous materials.

With regards to Sloan House, Pekarski said that the College administration “has seized the opportunity provided by the recent vacancy of Sloan House to improve it even further.” Though Sloan House has been examined frequently over the years for lead-based paint and chippings, recent renovations were seen as an ideal time to engage in necessary exterior lead abatement. Lead hazard is greatest for young children, who may ingest paint chips and experience problems with neurological development as a result. Lead has the potential to affect all ages, however, and is present in 87 percent of all homes built before 1940. In addition to lead removal, new windows, shutters and trims are being installed in Sloan House, and renovations may also be made to the east porch. Sloan House’s reopening date is still uncertain, as Design and Construction staff have yet to finalize the list of alterations that they wish to make.

Bronfman Science Center, which the College will almost entirely tear down and replace over the next several years, faces a lengthier, three-stage construction process. The first phase, which involves the removal of the discovered asbestos, began on Oct. 16 and will be completed in mid-November. Phase two will begin in June 2018 and entails the abatement of all remaining hazardous materials in the building. The third phase constitutes the removal of the foundation of Bronfman and, according to Pekarski, “will begin once the building itself has been demolished.”

Asbestos was widely used throughout Bronfman when it was built in the early 1960s because of its durability and its ability to resist heat and withstand corrosion. However, it also carries significant risks to human health. “The problem with asbestos comes about if it is inhaled,” Pekarski said. “In order to be inhaled, it has to be friable in a condition where it will be releasing, or be able to easily release, fibers.”

This makes asbestos harmless when intact but also means that it needs to be carefully contained during construction. To this end, the College is bringing in highly trained state-licensed workers to aid in removal.

Pekarski emphasized that these removals are routine and not a cause for alarm. “Whether a large project like Bronfman, or a small floor tile replacement in an office, our office is involved from the conception of the project until its completion to ensure that asbestos or other hazards are discovered and handled appropriately before any work is begun,” he said.

Facilities, he emphasized, is proactive in testing buildings across campus, and often has multiple asbestos surveys on file at a time. “Although many buildings around the country still contain asbestos and lead building materials, there are ways of containing these safely so that they’re not a threat,” Pekarski said. “This will be discovered again. It must be discovered if it’s present.” 

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