Cannon asbestos testing planned

By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer

Cannon Air Force Base is testing its military housing units for asbestos following the discovery of the potentially hazardous material in two unoccupied military houses, according to Cannon spokesperson Capt. Rebecca Garcia.

Approximately 30 homes will be tested and test results will be released in June, Garcia said Thursday.

So far, asbestos in Cannon housing hasn’t been found in hazardous levels, she said.

“The risk for people living and working in military housing appears low,” Garcia said.

Until asbestos tests are complete, Garcia said military housing residents should avoid any activity that could disturb asbestos, such as drilling into ceilings or walls.

Encased asbestos is contained in some Cannon housing drywall, floor tile, roof shingles, and ceiling textures, according to Garcia. This type of asbestos isn’t dangerous unless damaged or disturbed.

Asbestos is commonly used for thermal insulation, acoustic insulation, and fire proofing. It’s also found in numerous building materials, according to the Environmental Protection Agency Web site. Made up of bundles of fibers, asbestos can become airborne when asbestos-containing materials are damaged or disturbed, according to EPA. When these fibers escape into the air they may be inhaled into the lungs, where they can cause significant health problems, including cancer, the Web site reads.

Asbestos tests in the two unoccupied homes were conducted after water damaged the homes’ ceilings, Garcia said. A surplus in Cannon housing has left approximately 550 homes unoccupied, according to Garcia.

Cannon has 1,644 military family housing units, according to a military publication. About 80 percent of those units are located on-base, the publication reads. On-base housing was built primarily in the late 1950s and late 1960s, with renovations in the 1990s, including lead abatement, Garcia said. Off-base housing was built primarily in the 1990s and is leased by the Air Force, the publication reads.

Military housing regulations updated in August 2006 require the military to inform people of potential hazards in housing, such as asbestos, Garcia said.

Tests conducted in Cannon housing in the mid-1990s showed asbestos in building materials, but not in dangerous amounts, Garcia said.

A decision on whether Cannon should remove the asbestos-containing materials depended on whether Cannon privatized its housing, Garcia said. That privatization plan, however, was put on hold in 2005 because of the Base Realignment and Closure round, in which Cannon was tagged for closure.

The plan could be resurrected when Cannon gets its new mission, Garcia said. Air Force Special Operations should assume ownership of Cannon in October.

Other potential hazards in Cannon housing include lead-based paint, mold, and radon, according to Garcia.

Fast facts
• What: Military housing residents are encouraged to attend an information session about asbestos, mold, lead-based paint and radon.
• When: 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday
• Where: The Landing at Cannon Air Force Base

Until asbestos tests are done, do not:
• Drill into walls or ceilings
• Sand, cut or scrape walls, ceilings, floor tiles/adhesive
• Install light fixtures, ceiling fans, cabinets, etc., into walls, ceilings or tiled floors without prior approval
• Perform any maintenance or self-help work that could disturb identified areas that could possibly contain asbestos