Burst pipe damages Hart Hall offices, exposes asbestos

A pipe burst on the fourth floor of Hart Hall on Saturday, Feb. 14, damaging four occupied offices and faculty possessions. The hot water that gushed from the pipe collapsed the floor of room 418 and left the walls of Karen Bamford’s office below – and many of her books – unsalvageable. The clean-up following the flooding also revealed some asbestos in the walls of Hart Hall that required special procedures to contain.

Bamford, an English professor, said she felt “shock and horror” when she heard about the leak.

“I came straight over and found the mess. And people who were there on site were very helpful,” Bamford said.

An Amherst restoration company, First On Site, arrived on site within 30 minutes to replace the pipe and prevent further damage. Faculty members were already helping Bamford clear her office.

“We didn’t hesitate to call in the restoration company, especially when all those books were involved,” said Rob MacCormack, the head of facilities management. “Our immediate concern was her books.”

Within hours of the leak, the restoration company had set up dehumidifiers and fans to dry off the books. It took three days to dry the affected offices.

As restoration continued throughout last week, First On Site employees wore HAZMAT suits in the four damaged offices, which were sealed off with orange tarps to maintain negative air pressure – protocol for buildings with asbestos.

When the team removed the soaked walls, they found asbestos in the plaster. After removing the asbestos, they conducted two air tests. The building passed both required tests.

Asbestos is a common insultator in older buildings. While the dust is carcinogenic, the substance is not harmful as long as it is not disturbed. To remove asbestos from affected buildings is costly and involves special protocols to ensure the dust does not spread, so most institutions avoid it until it is absolutely necessary.

But some professors expressed concern about the health risks and the cleanup process.

Elaine Naylor, a history professor whose office is in Hart Hall, said that she and other faculty members in the building had experienced trouble breathing since the flooding and restoration.

“The mold, the dust, it affects your breathing. It affects people with allergies,” Naylor said. “I would hope that there will be a real investigation as to why this happened, and that this doesn’t happen again.”

MacCormack said inclement weather and cold temperatures caused the leak.

“We’ve had a really cold January and February,” MacCormack said. “We can’t predict everything, and in this case it just happened.”

MacCormack said that when the plumber replaced the pipe, he insulated it.

“If we get hit with a winter like this [again], I don’t think it’s going to freeze,” he said.

The four affected rooms are set to re-open on Friday, March 13.

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