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The Dartmouth
May 27, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Asbestos discovered in Alumni Gymnasium

The Office of Environmental Health and Safety has begun removing the harmful mineral from the College’s main gym.

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On March 28, the Office of Environmental Health and Safety detected loose asbestos in debris that fell from the ceiling into Alumni Gymnasium’s Room 118, according to a statement published on the EHS website. Dartmouth Student Government sent an April 12 email to campus announcing the discovery. 

In EHS’s statement — co-signed by senior vice president of capital planning and campus operations Josh Keniston and EHS director Annette Chism — the College wrote that it believes the asbestos were dislodged by “vibrations from the weight-lifting equipment” on the second floor. Rooms 115, 116, 117 and 118 — all of which are coach offices — have been closed for further testing, and the affected coaches have been temporarily relocated. 

In an interview with The Dartmouth, Keniston said EHS staff took samples from Alumni Gym’s ventilation system on March 29, the day after the initial discovery of asbestos, to evaluate whether asbestos fibers were present in parts of the air circulation system. Recent air testing indicates that the asbestos has been “contained” within the offices that were closed, Keniston said. He added that EHS does not “currently anticipate” needing to close any other areas of the gym, besides the currently closed-off offices and certain weightlifting equipment.  

According to Keniston, when asbestos is properly contained and sealed, the risk of health threats is “minimal.” However, the weightlifting machinery that sits directly above the affected offices will be “suspended” for the foreseeable future, he said. The College is “continuing to investigate” the potential presence of asbestos in other parts of the gym until EHS can “fully understand what other issues might have been caused.”

EHS wrote in their statement that they have been working with Woodard & Curran, an external environmental health and safety consultant, and Alloy abatement contractors to ensure that the material is removed “safely and quickly.”

Asbestos “can still be found in many structures throughout the country” because of its “historical use in construction,” according to EHS’s statement. It becomes dangerous when thin, airborne fibers are dislodged and breathed in, entering individuals’ lungs, according to the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services website. These fibers can cause a raft of serious health problems, including lung cancer, lung tissue scarring, asbestosis — a chronic lung disease caused by inhaling asbestos fibers — and mesothelioma, a cancer of the lining of the lung cavity.

Keniston stressed the importance of communication and “proactivity” throughout the gym’s restoration process. Campus officials will continue to keep the affected rooms vacated, remove any asbestos and regularly test the air. 

“We’ve been communicating directly with all of the affected employees in Alumni Gym in order to make sure that those who are directly impacted understand the plan and what the next steps are,” he said. 

Ben Kleinman ’27, who frequents Alumni Gym, said these disruptions have been an “inconvenience” to his routine. 

“I’m not able to use the squat racks, and there’s a lot less space for people now,” he said.

Kleinman explained that the roped-off equipment has created a congested workout environment because “there are less machines for what feels like more people.”

In an email statement to The Dartmouth, student body vice president Kiara Ortiz ’24 wrote that DSG has been in contact with associate athletics director of Athletics Facilities and Operations Greg Isenor, assistant director of Athletics Facilities and Operations John Ostler and Fitness Center manager Peter Lambert to “inquire about the timeline” for reopening the weightlifting section of the gym. DSG is also looking into “potential alternative locations” that can be temporarily used during repairs, according to Ortiz. 

“DSG remains committed to ensuring students have access to proper equipment and adequate fitness locations,” Ortiz wrote. “DSG appreciates that weightlifting not only supports students’ physical health but is essential for many students’ mental health and wellness practices.”

DSG will share further developments with the undergraduate student body as they arise, she wrote. 

Keniston also said the College will provide more information “over the coming week” regarding both the status of weightlifting equipment and when it will be safe for employees to return to their offices.