ICS Magazine

ASU to pay $96K for violating asbestos rules

January 14, 2009

TEMPE - Jan. 14, 2009 (AP) - Arizona State University has been fined and ordered to implement an expensive education program because it ripped out flooring containing asbestos at a heavily used building without taking any required precautions.

The work at the Memorial Union in August 2006 involved using machines to rip out 5,000 square feet of material in the basement.

Tests later confirmed that asbestos dust and fibers, carcinogenic when inhaled, swirled into the basement air. Workers carted the contaminated tile through the food court and upstairs to open-air trash bins, potentially leaving a toxic mist throughout the university's busiest building.

It was several hours before ASU environmental safety officials realized what was happening.

Maricopa County fined ASU $44,000 and required it to spend $52,000 to sponsor a series of seminars on asbestos handling, including one on Wednesday at the Tempe campus.

University environmental safety officials knew the tile floor likely contained asbestos, but were not aware the flooring was being torn out.

University officials deny wrongdoing and blame an outside contractor that they argue removed the tile without approval. But county air quality officials say the contractor provided them with e-mail records showing that the then-director of the Memorial Union ordered them to proceed.

County air quality officials listed the ASU alleged violations as "major" due to asbestos' "extremely high" toxicity, enforcement records show. A "medium amount" of asbestos was released into the air.

ASU spokeswoman Terri Shafer said the university hired three additional environmental safety officials to handle asbestos issues and prevent similar hazards after the 2006 incident.

Scott I. MacDonald, the county's asbestos inspections supervisor, said any exposure probably wasn't of long-enough duration to cause any health problems.