Thursday, March 6, 2014

DIY Fire proofing

I am often surprised by things found in libraries, although given the length of my time in the field maybe I shouldn't be.  You can turn a page and find chewing gum or open a manuscript box and find a whole roll of lemon Lifesavers among the items in a WWII field kit, or open a folder and realize that people have been debating the issue of vaccines for centuries.

My latest surprise was spotted by two researchers in the reading room.  They were consulting the papers of a former music professor and the library page found an extra box in the stacks and brought it to the reading room, just in case the contents were of interest.

They opened the box and found papers, reels of microfilm and notebooks, but what was more remarkable was what they found lining the box.  Too me the it looked like very thick, gray, blotter paper, but the researchers who are of "a certain age" recognized the lining material as asbestos fabric.  Apparently, back in the good old days, you could buy asbestos fabric at the fabric store.  Asbestos is remarkably chemical and heat resistant and so it was frequently used to fire-proof buildings, but there were multiple home uses as well.  My guess in this case, is that the previous owner of the box was using the asbestos fabric as a way to fire proof the box although it is hard to say for sure.

We now know that asbestos fiber is hazardous to human health and so it has been rapidly disappearing from daily life, only to pop up as part of building renovation projects or a DIY situation like this storage box.

The good news for us at the Library is that the University has a very responsive Heath and Safety Office who sent a staff person over right away.  Since the fabric hadn't been disturbed enough to release fibers, clean-up was very straightforward.  We all got to have our "neato-keen" moment, take pictures for training purposes and then wave good bye as the asbestos fabric and storage box was carefully taken away.

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