Friday, February 27, 2015

Asbestos in the archives!

by Marian Matyn

One Tuesday night a couple of weeks ago, in my History 583 Archives Administration class, one of my students found an asbestos tile in the Bliss Lumber Company records that they are all processing for the final project. It is clearly labeled as ASBESTOS. Why is it there? Asbestos was used in roofing tile and insulation for decades. There were lots of fires in lumber yards, mills, and camps. Asbestos tiles helped protect your roof. They were widely used for decades. This was a manufacturer's example sent to the Bliss Co. to solicit business. The manufacturer was H.W. Johns of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It dates from 1897-1898. It was still in one solid piece with attached label and original rusting paper clip.

Now, what to do with it? I can't keep it in the archives. I sent an email to our hazardous waste people to report it and learn how to get rid of it. I specifically asked about what I should tell my students.

After discussion with Jeff, CMU's Environmental Coordinator, we agreed that it is probably pretty non-threatening to me and my students and he will dispose of it and I do not have to do paperwork.

Then, in discussion, I remembered last year a student found a paint sample that was advertised as "Burn it," but it would not burn.

I thought what could the composition be? Jeff said, and I quote (I hope he doesn't mind) "That sounds suspicious." So I got that paint sample out of the stacks, and Jeff decided he had better take that as well. Here's a photo. It's made with asbestine. For some reason it just did not occur to me last year that this was some form of asbestos. It probably gave off asbestos vapors when Bliss employees tried to test it by making it burn, in 1897. Both examples are solid and non-life threatening.
So I made a note that the paint sample has been removed. I photographed both so we have a record of it. I notified my student who found the tile and will explain to my class next week about my discussion and how to handle them.

Now this makes me wonder what else may turn up in the Bliss records?