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West Classroom Building investigation complete

Rapid Response indicates no safety concerns

Administrators completed testing over summer break.
Photo: Taelar Pollmann · The Sentry

As students geared up for the start of a new semester, the Auraria campus underwent an investigation of faculty health concerns regarding the West Classroom. The West Classroom is located on the southwest corner of campus near the Auraria Library and St. Elizabeth’s Church.

In late July, Metro State and Auraria Higher Education Center (AHEC) were made aware that four employees had been diagnosed with three different types of cancer, all of whom worked within the same area on the second floor of the West Classroom. 

In addition, a faculty member who worked in the same area died of cancer two years earlier. Within a few days of being notified, Metro State and AHEC began working with two independent environmental testing agencies in the affected area.  

This is not the first time a building safety concern has arisen on the Auraria campus. In 2010, remodeling in the West Classroom revealed asbestos under carpeting in room 244. In 2016, the Physical Education, Recreation & Event Center closed for asbestos removal as well. 

Asbestos, a naturally occurring fiber, is often used in products ranging from carpet glue to paint. The substance is banned in many countries, though the United States allows asbestos to be used primarily in building materials. Contact with asbestos, particularly inhaling the substance, can cause aggressive cancer, most notably mesothelioma.  

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, all school buildings must comply with the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA), which requires all schools to regularly inspect buildings. In the instance that asbestos is discovered, removal of it is rarely necessary; rather, sealant is used to stop the fibers from diffusing through the air. 

Asbestos has been found in the construction materials used in many campus buildings. Upon discovering the substance, AHEC has removed and repaired affected areas.  

Prior testing to the West Classroom in particular has indicated that neither asbestos or lead is present in the building. According to AHEC Chief of Safety and Communications Blaine Nickeson, Facilities Services routinely inspects all campus buildings for safety concerns.  

In an announcement to the campus released on July 31, AHEC stated, “There is no data at this time to indicate that the building is environmentally unsafe, or that any building on campus is unsafe.” According to Metro State Chief Operating Officer Larry Sampler, there is rarely a link between the kinds of cancer contracted by the employees and the presence of asbestos. 

 While there are not any CU Denver faculty or staff offices in the West Classroom, the building is utilized for CU classes during the fall and spring semesters. On Aug. 12, the testing results indicated no connection between the West Classroom and the reported health concerns. 

According to a statement released by CU Denver, “The environmental parameters were within the typical ranges for occupied buildings and well below the applicable regulatory limits.” Now that testing is complete, building activities will resume for the upcoming fall semester.  

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