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Asbestos-laden pipe uncovered

ASHLAND ' A special clean-up crew removed piles of excavated dirt containing asbestos from behind ScienceWorks Hands-on Museum Wednesday.

The timeline is unclear, but while excavating for a new road bed on Southern Oregon University property, a subcontractor came across a pipe containing tremolite, an asbestos mineral. The pipe required special handling, said Dale Kuykendall of Emerick Construction Co. Emerick is the contractor in charge of the university's library enhancement project, and subcontracted the road work to Trinity Excavation Inc.

Asbestos is a cancer-causing substance when its fibers become airborne and are breathed into the lungs. Dangerous when disturbed, asbestos was commonly used in construction until the 1970s.

It is unclear whether Trinity employees recognized they were dealing with asbestos, but a university employee trained to recognize asbestos identified the pipe and later realized it was missing.

The SOU employee questioned Trinity workers and only then discovered it had been dumped with the dirt behind ScienceWorks, 1500 E. Main St., said Craig Morris, interim director of the university's physical plant.

— We need to keep this in perspective, it is a very old drainage pipe that came apart in large chunks, it won't disintegrate into powder, said Morris.

DEQ official Steve Coucher said there should not be any danger to anyone in the area unless they came in direct contact with the asbestos.

University officials said they became aware of the asbestos pipe on Monday, and immediately put warning tape around the dump site. The tape said protective gear and ventilators are needed in the area.

There is a bike path above the site and people are frequently in the area walking their dogs.

A resident contacted the Ashland Daily Tidings about the contaminated piles Tuesday when he noticed the tape on his routine morning walk.

This stuff is like rock. Nothing major ' like what happened at the school district, said Mike Reagan of Global Pacific Environmental, referring to a 1999 event when floor tiles containing asbestos were illegally removed from Walker Elementary School. Global is the clean-up contractor for the ScienceWorks site.

Everyone is exposed (to asbestos) on an ongoing basis; at any given point in time an air sample will show asbestos fibers, said Steve Coucher with the state Department of Environmental Quality. The idea is to minimize the amount and number of times one's exposed.

Emily Morris is a freelance writer for the Ashland Daily Tidings.