Plaridel Hall main building to reopen ahead of schedule after asbestos clearing

After more than two weeks of closure, the main building of Plaridel Hall at the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication (UP CMC) will reopen on Wednesday, Jan. 10 after the asbestos clearing in the TV Studio, a facility commonly used by broadcast media arts students.

Asbestos is a natural mineral widely used for insulation and fireproofing due to its resistance to heat and corrosion. However, the substance also poses various health risks as inhalation of its fibers may result in lung inflammation, scarring and cancer.

According to CMC Dean Fernando Paragas, he knew about the presence of asbestos in the TV Studio when he inspected the building’s facilities upon becoming the college’s head in 2022.

“‘Yung texture ng kisame ‘yung parang nag-tip sa akin na it probably was asbestos. But we had to have it checked,” Paragas said in an online interview with Tinig ng Plaridel.

As part of a state university, the college had to undergo procurement before they could hire the services of HiAdvance Philippines Incorporated, a third-party company, to test for asbestos in all buildings of the college.

Paragas said they confirmed the presence of “friable” asbestos on Feb. 3, 2023 only in the TV Studio.

Materials containing friable asbestos have more risk of scattering airborne fibers because they can be easily pulverized with mere hand pressure.

“Right now, ‘di nagagamit ‘yung TV studio for a year now. Pinasara namin noong napansin namin na may asbestos. Kaya nagsiksikan na [ang mga estudyante] doon sa media center,” Paragas said.

Meanwhile, the actual clearing of asbestos was done by another third-party company, Globecare Services Incorporated.

The original plan was to constitute a team from UP pero complicated kasi e. Maraming sanga-sangang issue. UP is still working on its waste disposal permits, so matatagalan pa ma-develop ‘yung capacity na ‘yun,” the college dean added.

It was only in 2000 that the Department of Environmental and Natural Resources banned select forms of asbestos such as crocidolite (blue asbestos) and amosite (brown asbestos). In general, however, the use of asbestos in the country is still allowed, especially for industrial materials.

Most buildings in UP Diliman were also built before the 1980s, including Plaridel Hall, which was completed in 1969 when the college was still an institute. 

TNP reached out to the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Planning and Development to know if other colleges in UP Diliman also reported the presence of asbestos in their buildings, but they have yet to respond as of press time.

Health and safety concerns

Some students online expressed their worries about the presence of asbestos in the college when UP CMC announced the main building’s temporary closure last December 2023.

Experts whom Paragas consulted said serious health risks would only arise if the asbestos materials in the TV Studio’s ceiling were moved to trigger the release of airborne fibers.

“Ito naman kasi nasa kisame, so parang basta raw ‘wag gagalawin, safe naman daw siya. Pero for us ‘di na siya amenable because the building is also aging. We don’t know to what extent na ‘di talaga siya gumagalaw, and you know there’s earthquake mga ganyan,” Paragas said.

In the latest advisory, UP CMC said the air quality was tested last Jan. 3, proving it was already safe to reopen the building.

Initially, Paragas said he was advised to leave the second floor of Plaridel Hall open, but he insisted it was still better to “err on the side of caution” and close the entire main building.

“Baka may maligaw na particulate sa hangin. ‘Yun ‘yung iniiwasan nating malanghap. Tapos malalaman mo lang in five years na kapag may cancer na yung mga tao,” he said.

Academic and student spaces

The temporary closure, however, forced some students frequenting the skywalk, lobby and hallway of the Broadcast Communication wing to look for alternative common spaces during the final stretch of the semester.

According to Paragas, the safest spaces left available for students are the Batibot outside Plaridel Hall and the basement of the annex building that is currently under renovation due to issues with its tiles and flooring.

Last December, student formations within the college were asked to clean up and redeem their belongings in the basement to give way to the renovation.

Kasi ‘yun talaga ang long term na magandang student space. Kaya lang ngayon ay sira-sira ‘yung tiles dahil nabaha ‘yun . . . Inaayos na rin kasi yung drainage sa likod para maiwasan na ‘yung pagbabaha,” Paragas said.

Meanwhile, faculty members of the journalism and broadcast communication department moved temporarily to the library’s second floor.

The classrooms, meeting rooms and facilities in the annex building also served as alternatives for classes that were affected by the main building’s closure.