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Release: Feb. 28, 2000

Tests indicate Mayflower residence hall is safe for occupancy

IOWA CITY, Iowa — A small amount of asbestos may have been released during a construction project to install new fire alarms and a sprinkler system in Mayflower Residence Hall at the University of Iowa. But dust samples collected by UI safety officials found no evidence of asbestos contamination. Based on those samples, health officials are confident that the building is safe for occupancy.

A total of nine dust samples, called "surface mini-vacuum samples," were collected in various locations in Mayflower. None of those showed any evidence of asbestos contamination.

As a precautionary measure, air samples have also been collected and sent to outside experts for analysis. Results of the air sample analysis may be available as soon as Wednesday, March 1. However, because asbestos fibers usually do not stay airborne for more than 72 hours and because there are no construction projects under way at Mayflower that would disturb the materials containing asbestos, UI officials are hopeful that those samples will give Mayflower a clean bill of health.

The UI last Friday notified both the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Iowa Office of Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) of the disturbance of the material that may contain asbestos. Students and staff were informed Monday of the release and that the building remains safe for occupancy.

The source of the asbestos is a product that 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 in that form is encapsulated, it is not in a form that crumbles easily. However, the Mayflower fire protection project work did involve the drilling of holes through the material and the driving of nails through the material. UI officials are concerned that those actions might have released asbestos fibers. The work in Mayflower hallways consisted primarily of fastening sprinkler pipes, electrical conduit and junction boxes, ceiling grid hangers, and soffit structure to the existing ceiling. The work in individual student rooms was limited to fastening wire moldings and fire detector boxes to ceilings.

The $3.8 million fire protection upgrade project at Mayflower started late October of 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.