– Asbestos Committee hopes for October opening
The air testing process at the University of Guyana, to determine if asbestos fibres have been removed from the atmosphere, is still ongoing; and, according to President of the University’s Student Society and member of the Asbestos Committee, Jason Benjamin, he is optimistic that the process will conclude no later than October month’s end.
According to Benjamin, it is anticipated that the testing process, which is being undertaken by the A and E Consultancy Firm, will be completed in another week’s time. He noted that several of the more than 380 rooms situated within the various affected faculties have been completed.
Among the buildings that were reportedly infested with asbestos are those used by the Physics, Chemistry and Health Sciences, as well as the original Library, the original Faculty of Arts, the Social Sciences Faculty, Faculty of Education, and the Administrative buildings. The Staff Club, technology laboratories, the original technology classrooms, technology mechanical workshop, the George Walcott Lecture Theatre, the small lecture theatre and the cafeteria were also affected.
The intent of the testing, he disclosed, is to rate the level of asbestos in the atmosphere; and once it is considered good or at a low percentage, it is expected that swift action will be taken to recommence classes at the university.
However, if the process does not indicate that the atmosphere is satisfactorily free of asbestos fibres, Benjamin disclosed, other best practices will have to be engaged.
The testing firm is tasked with checking each individual fibre found in the various rooms to verify whether they contain asbestos.
According to Benjamin, the process commenced on July 1, after the Asbestos Committee handed over the campus to Government a day prior, with the expectation that it would have taken at least two months to be completed.
It was outlined that the process would have been done in phases, with the first phase entailing the actual removal of the asbestos and a sanitising process, after which the second phase of the replacement of the roof was slated to commence.
However, according to Benjamin, the contractor who was hired to undertake the removal process did not heed the guidance of the Asbestos Committee to place asbestos-infested materials into plastic bags as they were removed.
In essence, Benjamin asserted, the contractor allowed the asbestos materials to be simply broken into pieces, creating an even more dangerous situation, which served to lengthen the process.
The committee member pointed out that there should have never been a hindrance to the opening of the university, which was scheduled for early September.
And, according to Benjamin, the air-testing process may have never been engaged had members of the committee not met with Minister of Education, Mr Shaik Baksh, earlier this month.
He disclosed, too, that during the meeting with the minister, some amount of reluctance was exhibited by the minister and the permanent secretary to have the air test done.
Benjamin said that it was related by the officials at that forum that asbestos was removed from schools but no air testing processes were carried out subsequently.
However, according to the Minister of Education, the President of the UGSS ‘seems to be living elsewhere.’
He pointed out that, prior to leaving Guyana earlier this month, he had in fact engaged a 13-member group from the university that requested that air testing be done at the campus.
According to the minister, he informed them that the Government was already considering such an undertaking, and they (the group) will be informed, even as he added that no further statements were made by him on the matter.
Minister Baksh related that the Government then proceeded to have the air testing done, the results of which, he said, would have been available at the end of last week.
The intent of engaging the process, the minister had noted, was to ensure the safety of students. He added that it is only after the test results are obtained that an official date for the reopening of the university will be announced.
The minister assured that measures will be employed quickly, once it is shown that the campus is free of asbestos, noting that he will request that the management of the university ensures that all operations of the university relocate back to the campus expeditiously to have classes resume as soon as possible.
On the other hand, he divulged, if the air is not proven to be free of asbestos, then efforts will be made to deal with the matter based on expert opinions and advice. He added that contingency arrangements will have to be put in place for classes.
After several years of appeals by university staffers to have the asbestos situation addressed, the Government, at the cost of $200M, decided to fund the removal of asbestos from the campus.
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