Use of Construction Chemical Prompts Allston Concerns

Now that Harvard has stopped using calcium chloride to reduce construction-related dust on Allston streets after residents expressed concerns that the compound could potentially harm neighborhood pets and contaminate the water supply, some say the incident was indicative of the University’s failure to keep the community adequately informed of its expansion plans.

Residents’ concerns come after a year in which the city approved Harvard’s plans to build the first piece of what will be a 350-acre campus in the neighborhood. Throughout the planning process, neighbors have said that the University has not been forthcoming in sharing its planning with the community.

“Good communication is being proactive about telling neighbors what is being done and why,” said Harvard Allston Task Force member Harry Mattison. “And that did not happen in this case.”

Harvard began foundation work this academic year on its 589,000-square-foot science complex, which will house the Harvard Stem Cell Institute. The four-building glass complex is slated for completion in 2011.

On June 12, Allston resident James R. Sloan said he noticed several trucks driving down Western Avenue spreading a white substance on the road.

Concerned that the chemical was potentially harmful to the water supply or neighborhood pets, Sloan said he contacted Edward G. LaFlore, the principal mitigation manager for CSL Consulting LLC—a company that works with Harvard on program management and construction public relations services.

LeFlore informed him that the substance was calcium chloride, which is also used during the winter to melt snow.

But after receiving numerous complaints from residents, the dust problem will now be controlled by other means, including water trucks and street sweepers, according to LeFlore.

Although Allston residents criticized the University for not informing them about the use of calcium chloride, some also said that they appreciated Harvard for responding quickly to their complaints.

“The trick is that if you make a mistake, you need to get on it hard enough to confirm that it won’t happen again,” said Harvard Allston Task Force member John Cusack. “To Harvard’s credit, there hasn’t been a repeat of anything we complained about.”

Harvard’s Director of Community Relations Kevin A. McClusky ’76 said that while he was not aware of the calcium chloride incident, he believed that that the University has tried to minimize the impact that the construction has on Allston residents.

“I think that in general, we have been getting high ranks, if reflected by the lack of calls I get from the neighborhood,” he said.

Sloan, however, criticized the distance between the University’s planners and the people who are impacted by their decisions.

“I shouldn’t have to go through a consulting company to speak to Harvard,” he said.

—Staff writer Nan Ni can be reached at