Pipe bursts in State Office Building

Special precautions taken because of asbestos insulation

Posted: Thursday, February 10, 2005

A 2-inch-wide pipe burst in the ceiling over the Alaska State Library early Wednesday, with water raining down on government books and documents.

The possibility of asbestos in the air added to the sense of urgency as workers rushed to prevent further damage Wednesday afternoon at the State Office Building.

"Call it book triage," said State Museum Curator Bruce Kato.

Library staff members work-ed to determine which books and documents could be blotted dry and which would need to be frozen to inhibit mold.

"There's kind of a 48-hour window," said Chris McQuitty, the library's administrative manager.

She said all of the books will need to come out because of the humidity in the room. They will have to be put in storage today so that staff members can figure out what to do to clean up the mess.

Staff member Lisa Golisek, who has training to work in asbestos areas, had to bring out the books in most need of rescue, McQuitty said. Asbestos fibers can cause lung disease if inhaled.

Vern Jones, the state's chief procurement officer, said there may not be an asbestos problem, but he expects to know for sure today.

The State Office Building was built in 1973 and has asbestos insulation, making the precautions necessary. Air samples were sent Wednesday to the Environmental Protection Agency in Anchorage.

Because asbestos fibers are most dangerous when they are dry and floating around in the air, Jones doesn't expect the burst pipe in the ceiling to cause an asbestos hazard. But knowing the asbestos is there, people have to work as if it is a problem until tests show otherwise.

The pipe burst in the ceiling above the library on the eighth floor between 6 and 6:30 a.m., when only security personnel were in the building, Jones said. He attributed the break to "age and fatigue. We're in the process of replacing the water pipes," he said. This pipe wasn't replaced in time, he added.

In addition to shutting down the library on the eighth floor, there was water damage to a library storage area on the seventh floor and a Retirement and Benefits office on the sixth floor.

Jones said there wasn't an assessment of damages yet, but in addition to books and documents, equipment got wet. "Computers were rained on."

People throughout the building may have felt the effects of the burst pipe, Jones said. Water had to be turned off throughout the building, including its restrooms, for most of the day. And due to the possibility of asbestos in the air, there was no ventilation to get air circulating.

The heat was on, Jones said. But because the air wasn't moving, it had to be turned off at one point.

McQuitty said about half of the 30 library employees were sent home for the day, but some were called back in to help with the book-rescue effort.

She said she didn't know how long the library would be closed because she doesn't know how badly it has been damaged. The carpet may need to be cleaned or torn out due to fungus.

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