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Office of News and Information
212 Whitehead Hall / 3400 N. Charles Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21218-2692
Phone: (410) 516-7160 / Fax (410) 516-5251

February 22, 1995
CONTACT: Dennis O'Shea

Statement on Air Quality Testing After Shaffer Hall Fire

A small fire that started in a motor in the fourth-floor mechanical room of Shaffer Hall on the Homewood campus on Friday morning, Feb. 17, was extinguished by campus personnel.

Baltimore City Fire Department firefighters who arrived after the fire was out removed charred material from the room, as required by their standard procedures.

Among the materials removed were sheets of plywood that covered the asbestos wrapping on an air handling system. That system is part of the building's heating, ventilation and air conditioning system.

The removal of the plywood disturbed the asbestos wrapping, which had not caught fire. As a precaution, the fire department ordered Shaffer Hall evacuated. The university brought in an outside contractor to test the air quality in the building and determine whether it was safe for staff and students to re-enter.

The contractor tested the air quality in the mechanical room where the fire had occurred and on each of the other floors in the building. In the mechanical room, the contractor reported a reading of 0.29 asbestos fibers per cubic centimeter of air.

That is less than a third of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration's standard for allowable asbestos in the air in a building, one fiber per cubic centimeter. The below- standard reading indicates that firefighters in the room when the plywood was moved were not exposed to unsafe levels of airborne asbestos.

Since the building's HVAC system does not draw air from the mechanical room, it was anticipated that there would not be elevated levels of asbestos in the rest of the building. That turned out to be the case. The contractor reported that all samples taken outside the mechanical room resulted in readings below 0.01 fibers per cubic centimeter, the lowest level at which asbestos can reliably be detected.

The building was reopened to students and staff at about 11:30 a.m. EST on Friday, Feb. 17, a little more than three hours after the fire was reported. The fourth floor remained closed to give workers the room they needed for equipment they used to reseal the asbestos wrappings in the mechanical room. That work was completed at about 7 p.m. Friday.

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