Most people could have expected that it would be only a matter of time before those exposed to cancer-causing asbestos at the University of Montana took legal action. Just weeks after the discovery of asbestos in an air duct led to testing that revealed levels of asbestos in the air at McGill Hall far exceeded levels considered safe by federal standards, 32 asbestos-related claims were filed against the university by faculty, staff and/or student workers.
The scare prompted the University of Montana to test areas within the building, after which which the school relocated 47 preschoolers to the College of Education. Parents demanded answers and, during an informal meeting, asked about the safety of their children.
They were told by a medical professional specializing in pediatric lung disorders that “there is nothing medical that can be done for them on an immediate time frame.” Asbestos exposure can cause mesothelioma, a rare but deadly form of cancer that can take 10 to 40 years to develop.
UM closed two childcare centers and evacuated the rest of McGill Hall while a cleanup is underway. About 70 faculty, staff and students are affected.
McGill hall was built in 1953, during a time when asbestos was widely used in construction materials, like insulation and floor and roofing tiles. Asbestos isn’t considered dangerous unless its microscopic fibers are set free such as during renovation or general wear and tear over time.
UM admits it did not conduct regular inspections of asbestos in buildings on its campus. The university admits there may be similar issues with asbestos in some of its other buildings, and it vowed to revise its asbestos protocols moving forward.
The use of asbestos was restricted in the United States in the 1980s due to its associated health risks. It is banned in more than 60 other countries.