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Release: March 1, 2000

Independent analysis of Mayflower air samples show building is safe

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Four air samples from Mayflower Residence Hall have been tested by an independent laboratory and showed no sign of asbestos contamination, confirming that the building is safe for occupancy, University of Iowa officials announced today.

In all, a total of 18 air and dust samples have demonstrated that there is no asbestos contamination in the UI residence hall. In addition to the four samples tested by the independent lab, the UI collected and analyzed five air samples and nine surface mini-vacuum samples. As an additional confirmatory measure, officials from the UI Health Protection Office will collect another set of surface mini-vacuum samples at random locations in Mayflower. The results of those tests will be announced at a later date.

The findings come in the wake of a university announcement Monday that a small amount of asbestos may have been released during a construction project to install new fire alarms and a sprinkler system in Mayflower. With the results of both the air and dust sample testing, university officials reaffirmed their confidence that the building is safe for occupancy.

The air samples collected by workers from the UI Health Protection Office were sent to the International Asbestos Testing Laboratories in Mt. Laurel, N.J., which performed transmission electron microscopy analysis. No asbestos was detected in the microscopic examination of the air samples. The New Jersey firm has been accredited by the National Voluntary Laboratory Accreditation Program, UI officials noted.

"We are happy to report that there is no cause for concern about asbestos exposure at Mayflower," said Ann Rhodes, vice president of university relations. "It’s important for our students and staff to know that the spray-on ceiling texture throughout the building does contain a small amount of asbestos. As long as that textured material is not disturbed, there is no health hazard.

"Now that we are aware of the presence of asbestos in the ceiling texture, all future work that could disturb this material will be done using OSHA-approved procedures for working with asbestos containing materials," Rhodes added.

The material containing the asbestos was sprayed on steel and concrete as a decorative ceiling texture and a fire retardant in the late 1970s, when Mayflower was originally built as a private apartment complex. That spray-on product is only a fraction of an inch thick but it contains chrysotile asbestos in a low concentration — 2 to 5 percent — along with styrofoam balls and talc, all of which are embedded and encapsulated in a mixture of glue and paint.

Because the asbestos is embedded in paint, it is not easily dislodged. However, the Mayflower fire protection project work involved the drilling of holes through the material, which led UI officials to take the precaution of sampling both air and dust in the building to determine whether the construction work resulted in any contamination.

The $3.8 million fire protection upgrade project at Mayflower started in October 1998 and continued through mid-January this year. It was not until late last week that it was discovered that the spray-on material contained asbestos. At that time officials from the UI Health Protection Office and certified asbestos staff from the UI Facilities Services Group began collecting air and dust samples.

At the same time, the UI notified both the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Iowa Office of Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) of the disturbance of the ceiling texture material. Students and staff were informed Monday of the potential release and that the building remains safe for occupancy.