The opening paragraph of a March 3, 2010, University of Connecticut Daily Campus article dispassionately states, “Federal regulations regarding the disposal and release of asbestos-contaminated objects were violated by UConn officials during the renovation of President Michael Hogan’s office last October, resulting in alleged asbestos exposures.” Another report on this exposure of university students and staff members — not to mention the construction crews — to asbestos in the Hartford Courant shows UConn officials have known of the problem for several months but are only making public acknowledgements of it now.

Asbestos fibers can easily enter people’s lungs. Once in a person’s body, those fibers never leave and can cause scarring that produces emphysema and another breathing problem called asbestosis. Often, asbestos exposure leads to the development of the painful, incurable and deadly cancer mesothelioma.

UConn has reportedly screened people who worked in the building where the asbestos was improperly removed, but the school has not shared any test results with the press. The problem arose because materials being removed as part of the renovation were not fully tested for dangerous substances, and construction crews did not know they needed to use special procedures and equipment when handling those materials. Specifically, the crews made no extra efforts to keep dust down and simply dropped materials out of a window into a Dumpster without using a chute.

Our firm has represented many workers who suffered serious health problems and lost their lives after being exposed to asbestos. My colleagues and I have seen firsthand how even small amounts of the mineral can ruin people’s lives years and even decades after it got into their lungs. The best result for everyone put at risk for the failure of UConn officials to follow regulations for doing construction on buildings that may contain asbestos is that their exposure were minor enough to cause no lung damage.

If, however, students, staff, or construction workers do suffer breathing problems or mesothelioma down the road, UConn will need to step up to its responsibility for compensating those people for its carelessness.