During a routine carpet removal in a hallway of the subbasement of Smith Memorial Student Union last month, workers discovered the tiles and adhesive underneath contained the carcinogen asbestos. As a precautionary measure, the subbasement was cordoned off and evacuated. Iris Environmental, a consulting and engineering firm which focuses on management of environmental liabilities and other issues, was brought in to safely remove the tiles
“All old buildings in Portland deal with asbestos,” said Scott Gallagher, director of communications at Portland State. “Anytime we renovate a building 30–40 years old, there’s typically asbestos, whether in insulating, flooring, ceiling tiles. But it’s not dangerous until you disturb it.”
Asbestos is classified as a set of six naturally occurring silicate minerals. When maintenance work disturbs materials possessing asbestos—like the tiles and glue in the SMSU subbasement—the risk of dangerous airborne particles is present. If asbestos particles are inhaled, they can cause serious lung problems, including mesothelioma and asbestosis.
The tiles found possessing asbestos were part of the original construction of SMSU, built between 1957 and 1963. Gallagher stated that similar tiles are still in several buildings throughout campus, including other areas of SMSU. During the glass tower remodel of Lincoln Hall, asbestos removal was figured into the $30 million budget.
Once Iris Environmental removed all the unsafe tiles and residue, they performed aggressive air testing to make sure there were no traces of asbestos in the hallway. The SMSU subbasement was reopened for regular activity following this testing.