Officials Angered by Asbestos Dumping

A pile of construction rubble containing asbestos near the Chelsea city line at the Route 1 and Route 16 interchange has city and community leaders up in arms.

While the rubble from a MassDOT project on the Salem Turnpike in Saugus and Lynn is technically on a MassHighway right of way in Revere, it is close to Chelsea city line and within 100 feet of Chelsea Housing Authority apartments, according to City Council President Roy Avellandeda.

State department of environmental protection officials stated on Wednesday that they did not give the okay for asbestos storage on the property, and were working to have it removed as quickly as possible.

The pile of construction debris has been at the site for several weeks, but signs about dangerous materials included in the debris just went up recently, Avellaneda said.

The council president said he was contacted by a reporter from WBZ news about the debris containing asbestos, and he immediately contacted City Manager Thomas Ambrosino, the DPW, police, fire, and 911 departments to see if any of them had been contacted by MassDOT or the state’s Department of Environmental Protection.

Patrick Keefe, the ward councilor for the area in Revere, also stated that he had not heard about the pile of construction debris on the site.

City officials worked alongside state legislators and GreenRoots Executive Director Roseanne Bongiovanni to contact state transportation officials to have the material removed and the site remediated.

In a letter to state DEP Director Martin Suuberg, state transportation secretary Jamey Tessler, interim director of energy and environmental affairs Bethany Card, and state environmental justice directors Rishi Reddi and Deneen Simpson, Bongiovanni expressed disgust and disbelief that the state had yet again contributed to further environmental racism and classism for the already disproportionately burdened environmental justice community of Chelsea.

“MA DOT, with the approval of MA DEP, has essentially stockpiled in open air a massive mound of asbestos laden construction debris,” stated Bongiovanni. “This pile sits directly across (less than a football field distance) from a low income public housing development.  There are signs surrounding the pile …  stating how dangerous asbestos can be to human health.  

“Yet the pile has sat  uncovered, for likely several weeks, across from an extremely vulnerable population.”

In the letter, Bongiovanni called for immediate removal, with proper protocols, of the construction debris; full soil remediation of the site; testing for asbestos in all adjacent apartments and remediation of any asbestos in those apartments; and a far-reaching apology acknowledging the state’s complete disregard for environmental justice protection for the residents of Chelsea.

“Our residents have already sacrificed our health and environment for the region’s benefits,” she stated. “Your outright disregard for environmental justice protections is infuriating and quite frankly completely asinine. It’s almost as if you’re begging us to sue the state for yet more civil rights violations.” 

In addition, Bongiovanni called for an agreement with city leaders, community residents, the Chelsea Housing Authority and environmental justice advocates, on a Supplement Environmental Project (SEP) to be implemented this summer at the CHA development to mitigate the harm the state caused to  residents and the neighborhood.

In an email response to Bongiovanni on Wednesday, Eric Worrall, the regional director of the MassDEP’s Northeast Regional Office, stated that the debris pile was not consistent with any approval the MassDEP had issued and that he was dispatching asbestos staff immediately to the site.

In an earlier statement, Courtney Rainey, the deputy chief of staff and director of government affairs for the state DEP stated that MassDOT and their contractors were appropriately managing their materials, including its transportation to a licensed out-of-state landfill that accepts asbestos containing material for disposal.

“As part of this management, they are also required to take air samples while work is ongoing and report the sampling results to MassDEP,” Rainey stated. “No exceedances have been recorded at this site.”

MassDOT officials have claimed the material was tested before arrival and deemed clean debris, and only later was a small portion determined to contain asbestos.

Avellaneda indicated that the city manager has been in touch with MassDOT administrator Jonathan Gulliver, and that the highway department is going to treat all of the material as if it is contaminated.

Even as the efforts to mitigate the issue were underway, Avellaneda expressed anger that once again, the state was exposing Chelsea and its residents to unnecessary hazards.

“This is another example of things happening in this community that would not happen elsewhere, this wouldn’t happen at the cloverleaf in Lynnfield, but it is happening here,” he said.

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