Replacing equipment that may contain asbestos makes move to Feringa Building expensive

Equipment that may contain asbestos is not allowed to move from Nijenborgh 4 to the Feringa Building. Consequently, research groups face significant costs to replace it.

The inventory for the carcinogenic substance, conducted in preparation for the move, was a little too exhaustive, according to professor of polymer science Katja Loos. ‘The company placed stickers everywhere, even on new equipment that cannot possibly contain asbestos.’

One million euros

She managed to salvage some equipment from the trash, including a rheometer – a measuring instrument worth two hundred thousand euros – and ovens from 2005. ‘But if you add up all the things we’re not allowed to take, it easily exceeds one million euros’, she says.

And that bothers her. ‘People often tell me that I should have saved, because then I’d now have the money to replace everything,’ she says. ‘But most of the project funds we receive from the Dutch Research Council are intended for PhD or postdoc positions, or for the purchase of chemicals. So saving a million euros is not an option.’

She also did not receive a budget for new equipment from the faculty. ‘I know the university is tight on funds, but I would have appreciated a bit of help. Our research will certainly be hampered in the coming years because of this and will have to inevitably change.’

Not a recent decision

The decision not to bring asbestos into the new building was made several years ago, explains Esther Marije Klop, managing director at the Faculty of Science and Engineering. ‘This allowed researchers to replace their equipment in a timely manner if they wanted to.’

To determine which equipment may contain asbestos – often equipment from before the asbestos ban in 1993 – specialised companies have carried out several inventory rounds. If a device is identified as ‘suspected of containing asbestos’, blueprints may be used to prove otherwise, or the equipment can be opened up for inspection.

The latter must be done under controlled conditions to prevent asbestos from entering the environment. ‘That is a risky and expensive operation’, says Klop. Many of the devices have already been written off and have no economic value. ‘Wouldn’t it be more efficient to buy a new version that does not contain asbestos?’

Earlier replacement

Equipment that is not allowed to move to the Feringa Building is marked with a red sticker. Equipment with a yellow sticker may or may not be free from asbestos, but the risk is low. Under certain conditions – it can never be opened or repaired – it can still move to the Feringa Building.

While Loos’ research will be hindered in the coming years because she cannot replace certain equipment, other labs aren’t similarly affected. In fields such as chemical technology, outdated equipment has largely been replaced already.

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