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Asbestos Found in Yard Dorm

Plumber Discovers Carcinogen in Mower Bathroom

By Amy N. Ripich

After a University plumber discovered exposed asbestos in a Yard bathroom during routine repairs earlier this week, a University health official said yesterday workers would remove the cancer-causing substance today.

During a subsequent inspection of all suites in the dorm, Mower, Harvard employees discovered more potentially hazardous exposed asbestos in another bathroom.

Alison M. Morris '90, who lives in Mower B-31 where the asbestos was first found, called the Yard superintendant's office immediately after the plumber told her about the discovery.

"The superintendant's office was pretty unspecific about when they would come to take it out," Morris said.

She next called the Cambridge Department of Health, who told her that it was illegal to have asbestos open to the air. Eager to have the material removed, she also called University Health Services, who referred her to Harvard's Dunbar Asbestos Labs.

"They said they had been planning to inspect Mower the next day anyway," Morris said.

"They came on Wednesday and said it wasn't a dangerous level of asbestos, and then they came the next day and said they would be taking it out Friday," said Elizabeth S. Bluestein '90, another resident of the room.

The damaged insulation will be removed today, said George W. Weinert, deputy director of environmental health and safety at Harvard. Removal is advisable when the paint and cloth seal covering the asbestos becomes broken, as it did in these cases, he said.

The University has been inspecting other buildings for similar problems with the potential carcinogen. "We have a rather large program underway," said Weinert.

Exposed asbestos can cause cancer when airborne in particles large enough to be caught in the lungs.

"In cases of very large quantities, you get a disease called asbestosis," said Warren E. C. Wacker, director of University Health Services.

He said that exposure to smaller quantities can increase the risk of lung cancer, but this occurs mainly in cases of asbestos workers who encounter much higher levels of the material than the Mower residents would.

"I'm not really worried about it because we've only been here a few weeks," Bluestein said. "This whole building has the same type of insulation."

Morris said she had not noticed that the pipe's covering had become damaged until the plumber brought it to their attention.

"Asbestos is a scary word," Morris said.

In recent years, Harvard has begun an effort to clear some of its older buildings of asbestos. In the Museum of Comparative Zoology on Oxford St., the problem was acute and was blamed by some for causing cancer in students and faculty who worked in the building.

"We have a rather large inspection program underway," Weinert said. "We encourage people to call us immediately when they think they have a situation where the covering has broken."

"The best advice to people is this," said Weinert. "When they see something they're concerned about, call us and we'll check it out."

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