The University's department of Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) last week started removing asbestos from a water cooling tower on top of the Science Center as part of an ongoing crusade against the cancer-causing substance.
EHS began removing insulation panels from the water tower last Tuesday, said Nancy Curtin, the asbestos coordinator for the department, which is responsible for removing or encapsulating asbestos at Harvard.
Employees of Dec Tam Asbestos Removal--whom EHS hired--"have just about completed removing the panels from the water tower," and are currently stacking the panels on the Science Center roof, Curtin said. She said that she expects the panels to be removed by the end of this week.
EHS Director George W. Weinert called the overall program to remove asbestos "very aggessive" and said that Harvard currently is spending $2 to $3 million dollars annually to combat asbestos. He said that he expects funding to remain at this level for the next four or five years.
This summer, Harvard removed or encapsulated asbestos at more than 20 University sites, including North House, McKay and Jefferson laboratories, Fay House, and the basements of Story and Dana Halls. Asbestos can cause cancer when inhaled.
The asbestos in the water tower posed a minimal threat because students never come near the tower and maintenance workers only enter it once or twice a year, Curtin said.
"You have to climb up a 30-foot ladder and then drop yourself into a hatchway in order to get in, so it is hard to get in," Curtin said.
Weinert said it was "very unlikely" that the asbestos got into the water in the cooling tower. He said that even if the water had become infected, "that water is not water that people drink or use to clean themselves. It is only for cooling purposes, to remove heat."
Curtin declined to disclose the sites of future asbestos work, but she said that "no other work is planned for the Science Center, as far as I know."
Curtin said that EHS has received more than a dozen calls from students concerned about asbestos insulation in their radiators or pipes. She said that only two of the cases required asbestos encapsulation.