Asbestos Information & Health Resources

April 05, 2019

Recently, the campus learned that a construction contractor installing wall-mounted cable enclosures (e.g., raceway, conduit) in non-residential areas of Cowell and Stevenson colleges drilled holes in walls with underlying materials containing asbestos. The surfaces of many of these walls is covered by an
asbestos-containing skim coat between the sheet rock or concrete and the paint, in accordance with typical practices at the time the buildings were constructed. Therefore, some of the dust and debris generated from drilling the holes contained a small amount of asbestos fibers. Unfortunately, in some areas the contractor did not fully contain the dust and debris generated by this activity. The construction work began in August 2018, continuing into March 2019.

What is asbestos?

Asbestos is a naturally-occurring fibrous mineral. Two properties account for asbestos’ widespread use: its strength when the fibers are woven together and its heat and flame resistant properties. Asbestos has been used in a variety of industrial products including insulation, roofing shingles, ceiling and floor tiles, washers and dryers, paper products, automobile parts, and heat resistant fabrics, to name a few items.

What is the asbestos abatement/clean up process for this situation?

In order to abate, or clean up, the areas with asbestos-containing dust or debris, the air handling system is turned off and the area enclosed in plastic sheeting. Fans are set up at the perimeter of the enclosure, pulling air in. This creates a “negative” enclosure, ensuring that any asbestos fibers disturbed during the cleaning do not leave the area. The area is then cleaned using HEPA-filtered vacuums and wet wiping surfaces. After the area has been cleaned, air samples are collected to verify that any airborne asbestos fiber levels are below AHERA (Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act) criteria1. The area air handling system is then turned on 1 and the area released for re-occupancy. Closed areas and rooms, air testing results, and re-opening dates are listed in a table on the campus Cowell Closure website: (see link for “Real-time updates on the status of buildings and rooms).

How can asbestos exposure occur?

Although asbestos is present in building materials throughout the UCSC campus, the asbestos in these
materials is contained. For a person to be “exposed,” the asbestos fibers must be released from the building materials, become airborne, and breathed into the lungs. Drilling holes into asbestos-containing wall material, without the use of containment, can release the asbestos fibers into the air, exposing the people doing this work. Although much less likely, it may be possible for asbestos contamination in dust and debris left in place after the construction activities to become airborne and inhaled if there is enough air movement. Given the many variables associated with this scenario, it is not possible to calculate the amount of asbestos fibers, if any, that become airborne from natural air movement around dust or debris.

What are the potential health effects?

Diseases related to asbestos include asbestosis, a form of scarring of the lungs, lung cancer, and
mesothelioma, a cancer of the outer lining of the lungs. Typically, these diseases are associated with workers who have had prolonged intense exposure to asbestos with clinical symptoms appearing many years after the prolonged intense exposure, even decades later. These illnesses are most commonly seen in employees working in industries where asbestos products were made or used. People with a history of asbestos exposure and who smoke have an even greater risk of developing lung cancer. There are no immediate symptoms from exposure to asbestos.

Is there a way to test for exposure to asbestos?

There is no test that can determine if you have been exposed to asbestos. Chest x-rays are useful only in detecting illness years after the exposure, not early on. For this reason, chest x-rays are not recommended at this time to detect exposure to asbestos.

Is there a way to treat asbestos-related illnesses?

There is no treatment for acute exposure to asbestos. Early detection is important in the treatment of
asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma. If you have a history of exposure to asbestos, you should refrain from smoking. Smoking combined with asbestos exposure significantly increases the risk of lung cancer.

Where can I find more information?

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
(ATSDR) both provide excellent information on asbestos health effects and risk assessment:

What are my medical resources?

UCSC has a number of medical resources available for everyone. If you would like additional information or to speak with an occupational and environmental health physician, please email Your inquiry will be directed to our consulting occupational and environmental health physician with specific experience and expertise in asbestos-related exposures. Do not send personal health information through this email.

If you would like to consult with your own medical provider, please bring this information sheet with you.
This information will assist your provider in better understanding your potential exposure, which in turn will assist them in providing you with information specific to your personal health situation.

If you choose to seek medical attention or are an employee interested in the Workers’ Compensation
program, please see the contact information below:

For UCSC employees/student employees:

Santa Cruz Occupational Med. Clinic
3601 Caldwell Drive, Soquel
(831) 576-3000

UCSC Workers’ Compensation program:

UCSC Workers’ Compensation
(831) 459-1787


1Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA) -