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Asbestos Leak Closes Pub Storeroom for Grad Orientation

By Laura McGrath Moulton

and Jennifer Young

STAFF REPORTERS

The Muddy Charles Pub had more to worry about than fake IDs and unruly patrons last Thursday, when discovery of a damaged asbestos pipe covering led to the closure of its storeroom. As a result, the popular graduate student watering hole lost access to its supplies of beer and wine during graduate student orientation.

Although the suddenness of the closure and the lack of early communication earned criticism from the pub and the Graduate Student Council, cooperation between MIT officials and Aramark helped to ensure a successful graduate student orientation.

Repairs lead to asbestos discovery

Most pipes in Walker Memorial, where the Muddy Charles is located, have asbestos coverings, as is common in many older buildings. As long as such coverings remain undisturbed, they pose no health risk, said Jamie Lewis Keith, managing director for environmental programs and risk management senior counsel.

However, during repairs for a small leak in a pipe near the cafeteria last week, some asbestos was damaged, said Campus Activities Complex Director Phillip J. Walsh.

The Environmental Medical Services were called to inspect the repairs, and damage to the asbestos coverings in the Muddy Charles Pub’s storeroom was discovered.

“Upon inspection of the storage room, they discovered what’s typified as ‘significant’ damage. I believe a small section had fallen,” Walsh said.

The damaged asbestos required immediate action by the Industrial Hygiene Office, said Keith.

“When the Industrial Hygiene people found out some asbestos might have been compromised they were required legally to close it right away,” said Keith.

Pub manager Joe Contrada expressed frustration with the fact that asbestos was removed on this kind of basis.

“I’ve known the asbestos has been down there for years. I was in touch with the Campus Activities Complex and I said anytime you want to schedule [asbestos removal] is fine,” but nothing was scheduled until the damage was discovered, Contrada said.

The timing couldn’t have been worse for the Muddy Charles, which suddenly found itself without access to all its alcoholic supplies two days before its major graduate student orientation event.

Contrada said, “I had tons of stuff I couldn’t get to. I had to call suppliers ... ordering three cases of beer just to get us through the day.”

Quick work resolves dilemma

As the state-licensed asbestos removal contractor was already working on campus, they were able to quickly shift their work to the Pub’s storeroom.

“We got a variance from the state to go in and get the work done immediately. The next day the Muddy Charles was up and running without a significant impact,” Walsh said.

Contrada concurred. “The asbestos company’s phenomenal. They did it in forty-eight hours,” he said.

Aramark was also instrumental in resolving the issue, coming to the aid of the Muddy Charles.

“Aramark was wonderful in coming through. They were very quick to find a walk-in cooler and storage area and make it available to the Muddy Charles,” said Walsh.

Compensation sought for supplies

During the course of asbestos removal, some of the beer and wine in the storage room was thrown away. Walsh said that any item that couldn’t be cleaned adequately was thrown out.

“The asbestos contractor has to make that value judgment,” Walsh said. “You can’t take chances with asbestos. For instance, there may have been beer caps that would be hard to clean.”

Walsh added that MIT would offer compensation for the Muddy Charles’s losses: “There is every intention to cover [the damages].”

Contrada estimated the losses at $1,000. He is preparing a report to present to MIT for compensation.

Early on, the lack of communication among those involved provided a source of tension. Contrada was notified after the store room was locked up. “The locksmith called me at home as a courtesy.”

Contrada said that the process was frustrating. “I was fit to be tied. It’s just the mechanism ... and the lack of communication.”

“Had this been done on a scheduled basis it could have been done for nothing,” he said.

After the dust settled, the Environmental Medical Services acknowledged the need for immediate notification.

“They need to explain to people why they have to do it so quickly .... They could have been clearer. They are committed to paying attention to that communication on a going-forward basis,” said Keith.

In the end, however, Walsh noted, “It was certainly not the loss it might have been.”