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University of Montana Moves Preschool Over Asbestos Concerns

— January 31, 2019

Following a round of asbestos tests in its McGill Hall, the University of Montana is moving dozens of preschoolers and staff outside of a potential contamination zone.

The University of Montana is moving dozens of preschoolers from an on-campus facility after investigators found “unacceptable levels of asbestos fibers” in a McGill Hall classroom.

According to The Missoulian, the university didn’t divulge its test results.

However, spokeswoman Paula Short said the school is willing to answer questions at a public meeting scheduled for 5:30pm on Thursday.

“We compared the surface site results against an EPA guideline for household levels,” Short wrote in an e-mail. “Montana Code does not identify a safety threshold for asbestos in settled dust. However, our decisions were made considering the EPA guidance.”

Asbestos, once a fixture in construction materials and industrial supplies, can cause lung cancer, mesothelioma and other chronic lung conditions. The latency period for developing such illnesses, writes The Missoulian, can range from 10 years up to 40.

An e-mail from the preschool director to parents said that the University of Montana found asbestos in an air handler serving the preschool. The school claims that initial results don’t suggest “a measure risk to our children or employees.”

Asbestos was once frequently found in construction materials. Image via Mary Lotus/Wikimedia Commons. (CCA-BY-3.0).

Along with evacuating the preschool, the university has decided to shut down the entirety of McGill Hall until Thursday. Testing is expected to take at least several days. Employees were told to leave their personal belongings and office supplies behind until they could be probably cleaned. “This will minimize risk of contaminating other areas,” a memo said. “All offices and the building will remain locked and your items secured.”

Reactions from faculty and parents were mixed. Lu Hu, a University of Montana chemistry professor and father of a three-year old preschooler, said he isn’t overly worried about asbestos.

“But we will see as we get more information,” he said.

In its initial email to preschool families, McGill facility managers said they were “reasonably certain there was no contamination” in the child care area, since the preschool uses a different filtration system than the rest of the building.

“However, because asbestos is contained in the thermal system insulation throughout the building, in order to be certain, we decided to expand our testing to include the HVAC system supplying the child care area,” the university said.

A round of air quality tests, performed between January 19th and the 23rd, came back showing no evidence of asbestos fibers.

But Short says surface testing conducted on the 24th, with results received late Monday, indicated “the presence of unacceptable levels of asbestos fibers,” prompting the preschool’s temporary closure and move. Short says the university will provide parents and the public with a map showing the exact location of surface tests on Thursday.

A UM investigation has already identified eight people who may have been exposed to carcinogenic fibers in McGill Hall rooms 212 A, B and C.

Originally, writes the Missoulian, the university planned to offer ‘baseline pulmonary testing to them and several others who subsequently reached out to the campus about their time in the suite.’

But in light of its recent sweep and findings, UM will extend the service to preschool employees.


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University of Montana moves preschool children after tests show ‘unacceptable levels’ of asbestos

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