October 30, 2012

Asbestos on campus and no one cares

The dumpster where the asbestos was deposited.

The dumpster where the asbestos was deposited.

By Lee Cole–

I don’t know which I find more disconcerting: the fact that there is a huge dumpster full of asbestos next to the Humanities building, or that there is enough asbestos in the buildings on U of L’s campus that removing it takes a nearly a week.

I first noticed the warning signs labeled “asbestos” as I was leaving class last Monday.  Initially, the dumpster itself was covered by a plastic tarp, as though that would somehow protect us.  I had heard that there were large quantities of asbestos on U of L’s campus, but it’s one thing to hear a rumor and quite another to see a giant crane dumping it in a disposal area.

What’s perhaps most alarming is that no one seemed to notice.  Students may have glanced down at the sign and wondered fleetingly where they had heard the word “asbestos” before.  It might’ve been stuck somewhere deep in their brain, having been placed there by one of the countless mesothelioma lawsuit commercials during daytime television.  Ultimately, however, it didn’t cause campus-wide outrage.  That very day, there were students eating bagels and drinking coffee outside within a few feet of a heap one of the world’s most dangerous carcinogens.

While I suppose it’s good that the asbestos is being removed, it leads me to wonder how much asbestos could be found throughout the rest of campus.  A lot of the buildings on campus, excluding the Speed School, were built around the same time and according to the same construction standards.  If there is a considerable amount of asbestos still to be removed in campus buildings, then this would only add to the list of growing concerns about campus structures, after the most recent mold and bedbug incidents.  Asbestos is unseen, however, and isn’t “icky” like mold or bedbugs.  As long as the asbestos remains in the walls, no one will care.  In fact, no one will care if it’s hauled out into a dumpster in the middle of campus (although someone might write an article about it).  But if one sorority girl finds a bedbug or some fuzzy mold in her dorm, you better believe it will be a scandal.  We don’t mind getting cancer slowly over many years, but being grossed out – well, that’s where we draw the line.

It should come as no surprise, however.  We live in a culture that is sustained by a rich tapestry of harmful chemicals, from plastics and preservatives to pesticides and petroleum.  Many of them do cause cancer, but this monumental danger to society as a whole has become banal.  On the bright side, maybe the asbestos will kill the mold and the bedbugs.

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