Three two-person apartments in the College Avenue complex have been occupied by contractors instead of students since the beginning of this school year, when asbestos fibers were discovered inside the units.
As one of four campus-owned apartment complexes, the units house 165 Wheaton upperclassmen each academic year. The asbestos fibers were discovered during remodeling work that was being done in those same apartments to eradicate mold caused by a leak which occurred near the end of the summer. Other College Avenue apartments had already been renovated over the summer as part of a scheduled remodel.
“Asbestos is not a health concern unless disturbed by remodeling work, and then precautions are taken to make sure the asbestos fibers are contained and disposed of properly,” said Justin Heth, dean of residence life.
The six displaced students have been housed with their roommates in various campus houses and residence halls while the college’s risk management department works with removal contractors to remediate the problem and allow the students to move back in. The removal process is expected to take seven weeks.
Heth acknowledged that the situation is less than ideal. “Any housing change or delay is disruptive when reality does not match one’s expectations and a student has to move twice during the year,” Heth said. He also expressed appreciation for the cooperation the students have shown during this interim cleanup period, saying they “have handled the remodeling news very well and have been exceptionally gracious to residence life and housing despite not getting to move directly into their apartment at the beginning of the year.”
One of those students, junior Miranda Kay, commended the school for being “helpful” by doing things like “adjusting meal plans and parking permits.” Though the change has been surprising for her, Kay decided she “had a choice to either be bitter about the situation, which would get me nowhere, or to just roll with it.”
While Kay and her roommate are currently living in an on-campus house, she acknowledged that other students are still living in dorms and was careful not to speak for their experiences.
Asbestos is a fibrous mineral that was used extensively in manufacturing and construction for insulation fireproofing, floor tiles, and in certain consumer products. Stating in the 1970s, the federal government began to ban use of asbestos due to the high risk of cancer. It is present in many older buildings in the United States, including some floor tiles in some buildings across Wheaton’s campus. Its mere presence poses no safety issues, but its disruption can release asbestos fibers into the air, which may lead to several lung diseases..
“We do not believe the work being performed in the College Ave apartments poses any health or safety risks to students currently living in the College Ave apartments,” representatives from the risk management department stated. “We have licensed contractors performing the work in the affected units with all necessary safety precautions in place.”