Some 10,000 Cambridge homes were estimated to have asbestos-covered pipes in 2010, but Nstar won't work in them. (Photo: Jonathan Bell)

Some 10,000 Cambridge homes were estimated to have asbestos-covered pipes in 2010, but Nstar won’t work in them. (Photo: Jonathan Bell)

Warning to all Cambridge residents thinking of calling on Nstar to service their gas furnaces … or replace old gas meters … or convert their boilers from from oil to gas service.

If your home is old enough to have asbestos-covered pipes in the basement, as most in Cambridge are, chances are Nstar’s service technicians will refuse to do any work down there. Automatically. Immediately upon spying the pipes in question. Even if you have no asbestos particulates in the air. Even if you’ve had previous gas companies servicing your basement needs for the past 50 years. Even if you only called them in because they told you it was time to have your meter changed.

It makes no difference why they were called in, Nstar technicians will leave at the first sign of an asbestos-covered pipe. In our six-unit building, we were forced to pay hundreds of dollars to have the air analyzed in both our basements so an Nstar technician would return to turn on the gas and reignite water heaters. This after shutting down the gas and replacing outside meters on one side of our building.

When we later responded to a notice saying it was time for Nstar to replace the meters on the other side, we figured we were okay because we now had documents proving there were no asbestos particulates in the basement air. But that report proved insufficient to the technician who showed up to make the meter exchange. Days later, after multiple attempts to reach his Nstar supervisor, we were able to convince them this wasn’t an asbestos death chamber, and they made the exchange.

This problem goes back to 2010, when 10,000 homes in Cambridge were estimated to have this Nstar-asbestos conflict. Despite the City Council holding a hearing, the problem goes on.

I was reminded of all this foolishness last week when I got a promotional mailer for Nstar’s $119 Mid-Season Special. The flier enjoins unsuspecting Nstar customers, “Don’t be left in the cold,” suggesting Nstar’s courageous technicians will brave winter’s roughest and coldest challenges to keep their customers warm.

Assuming, of course, there are no asbestos-covered pipes in the basement to frighten them away.

Paul Steven Stone is an essayist-novelist living in Cambridge. Until recently, Stone worked as director of advertising for W.B. Mason, but is now an independent advertising and communications consultant. He can be reached at [email protected].