Where there are old buildings, there is likely asbestos. That’s certainly the case at Harvard University, where officials say asbestos can be found in several undergraduate Houses as well as office buildings, libraries, and a number of other academic facilities.
Though administrators admit that the toxin is “everywhere”, according to an article in the University newspaper, The Crimson, most say there is little cause for concern.
Nonetheless, there have been times when the presence of asbestos became quite apparent, including an incident last year involving a senior who returned to his room at Winthrop House to find his possessions covered with asbestos-laden dust that had fallen from the ceiling.
Apparently, the discovery prompted much discussion about the safety of Winthrop and other Houses at the Ivy League college, but facilities officials maintain that students should not worry.
Nevertheless, one wonders how many other times a similar incident has occurred inside these aging complexes.
Zachary M. Gingo, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences’ Senior Director of Facilities Operations declined to name the houses where asbestos might become a problem, but students researching the problem zeroed in on those that were built prior to 1970 and have not been renovated.
These included Adams House, Eliot House, Kirkland House, Lowell House, parts of Pforzheimer House, and parts of Cabot House.
Gingo says the college makes sure the toxic material does not become crumbling or “friable”, which makes it easy to inhale should one come in contact with it.
However, that seems not to have been the case at Winthrop House, though Gingo would perhaps disagree.
“Harvard takes every precaution to ensure that [crumbling] does not happen on campus, employing specific maintenance protocols to avoid the damage or disturbance of potentially asbestos-containing materials,” Gingo wrote in an emailed statement, adding that House building managers are aware which parts of their house might contain asbestos, and that the school hires “third-party experts” to remove the asbestos before any work is done on those areas of concern.
“There’s asbestos hidden away in all older buildings, but whenever found during work, the official team comes in and takes it out safely,” said Sean Palfrey, a Faculty Dean of Adams House. “This is a fact of life, and as long as everyone is aware it could be there, the response is well-established.”
Schools and universities throughout the U.S. are laden with asbestos. Must of the time, the material is well monitored though incidents do happen time and time again.
Students should be made aware of the fact that they could potentially encounter asbestos and should be educated as to what to do if they do find asbestos dust in their dorm rooms or elsewhere.
Inhalation of such dust could eventually cause diseases such as asbestosis, lung cancer, or mesothelioma.