FORT GORDON, Ga. (Oct. 24, 2014) - The United States banned use of asbestos in new construction projects more than three decades ago, but its presence lingers and still draws concern.

Many of the buildings on Fort Gordon contain asbestos, but they don't cause harm if left undisturbed, according to David Pickerell, garrison safety manager. Asbestos is potentially harmful only when crushed and inhaled.

A fibrous mineral that was heavily used up until the 1980s, its heat insulation and fire resistance properties made it an ideal component of flooring, walls, ceilings and pipes. Asbestos was widely used until health issues related to it surfaced, leading to its ban. Rather than disturb the asbestos and spend copious amounts of time and money rebuilding, many structures were left intact.

"It wasn't feasible to take it out of buildings," Pickerell said.

Asbestos, when encapsulated, poses no threat. All asbestos in buildings on Fort Gordon is contained in materials, isolated and labeled, or encapsulated.

"It could be in the column you're sitting next to, in the ceiling tiles, in the floor tiles underneath the carpet," Pickerell said. "But it's perfectly OK as long as you're not drilling holes into the column, removing the ceiling tile, or uprooting the carpet."

Lung cancer and mesothelioma, a cancer of the lining of the chest and abdominal cavity, are two serious health effects directly linked to prolonged exposure to asbestos. Since symptoms don't usually appear until about 20 to 30 years after the first exposure, it can be difficult to know for certain if a person is at risk.

There are policies in place to protect the community from such exposure. Any time an employee wants to modify a space, they must first submit a work order request to the Department of Public Works. DPW will check the building for asbestos then determine if the requested action is user-level work or one that a trained professional needs to perform. If a person is caught altering their space without going through the proper channels, they could end up being forced to reimburse the government.

Due to in an increase in remodeling of buildings and relocation of personnel, Pickerell said there are concerns about possible disturbance of asbestos on the installation. He strongly discourages employees from going into their office and removing carpet that could expose broken tile floors containing asbestos, replacing ceiling tiles on their own, or anything that could create dust from the material.

"Anytime you're disturbing anything in the building, you have to do that work order and ask DPW for permission; even with painting," Pickerell said. "You can't just go in and do whatever you want to your office without asking DPW for permission."

Even drilling holes could pose a health hazard if done without taking proper safety precautions. Pickerell recommends using self adhesive tape in place of nails when possible. They hold better and don't cause damage.

"There are a lot of things we can do to avoid health problems," Pickerell said.

Anyone with questions or concerns about their workplace related to asbestos should contact the safety manager at: (706) 791-7233.