California is home to many classic old buildings. From mission churches dating to the time of New Spain, to the Art Deco buildings of the 1920s and 1940, and the modern buildings of downtown San Francisco and Los Angeles, there are a great variety of styles throughout the state.
While the Science Building on the campus of San Francisco State University may not strike many as a classic, in recent weeks it has become more notable than its simple exterior would suggest. An investigation for potential hazardous materials found that the building has numerous locations with asbestos containing materials, lead paint and mercury vapors.
The school has closed the entire building for the spring semester after the report found that the contamination was worse than expected and officials were attempting to relocate the 2,500 students, faculty and staff that typically would use the building.
Many buildings from last century had numerous applications of what today is seen as hazardous materials. Asbestos was used in a great many areas of building construction, from floor tiles and acoustic ceiling tiles, to steam pipe insulation and roofing shingles.
In some applications, the asbestos may be encapsulated in thick paint and run through utility trenches or be buried behind walls and ceilings, as is the case with steam piping. But even those materials may pose a threat to workers who have to enter those areas.
Floor tile can pose a greater risk to students or faculty on the campus, as the tiles can wear as countless feet trod over them, potentially creating asbestos-fiber laden dust that can then be blown by the movement of people or the building's ventilation systems.
Other problems, like lead paint, are another example of a dangerous building material whose legacy will last for decades, as the owners of buildings have to clean up the mistakes of the past.
Source: SFGate.com, "Contamination worse than suspected at S.F. State building," Nanette Asimov, January 22, 2014