Officials in Chelsea are furious after the state left behind a pile of asbestos-contaminated debris near a public housing complex that some advocates call “environmental racism”.
According to WBZ, the debris is located northbound from Route 1 at the Route 16 exit.
According to a letter from MassDOT Highway Administrator Jonathan Gulliver to Chelsea City Manager Thomas Ambrosino, it came from replacing the Belden G. Bly drawbridge on Route 107 via the Lynn-Saugus line.
In the letter, Gulliver apologizes “that this situation surprised you and other Chelsea officials”.
“It was never our intention to leave the community uninformed and while this situation developed quickly, our communications did not meet our standards,” Gulliver wrote in Wednesday’s letter. “My apologies, and you have our commitment that MassDOT is taking steps to ensure this doesn’t happen again in Chelsea or any other community.”
Gulliver also assured Ambrosino that the community was not at risk and the department was working to remove the pile. A double cover was placed over the pile on Wednesday.
Among a small portion of the debris, some pieces of pipe and parts of buildings were found where officers found asbestos debris. A disposal plan was drawn up with the State Office for Environmental Protection. The contaminated material is less than 10 meters away, according to Gulliver.
“The testing, handling and proposed disposal of the stockpile have been carried out in full compliance with all applicable regulations in conjunction with the DEP,” Gulliver wrote. “The amount of asbestos debris within the dump is small and poses no risk to public safety or health.”
This location is just “one of many” across the state that MassDOT is using as a “storage site” for construction, state officials said in an email. There they began hoarding soil in the late summer of last year.
“MassDOT will remove the footage and restore the transfer area as soon as possible,” the email said, citing state plans for this to begin in the next few weeks.
The situation first caught the attention of environmental group GreenRoots.
“We are extremely frustrated, disgusted and in disbelief that the state of Massachusetts has contributed to further environmental racism and classism for Chelsea’s already disproportionately burdened environmental justice community,” GreenRoots executive director Roseann Bongiovanni said in a statement shared on Twitter.
The group called for the rubble to be removed and for asbestos testing and remediation to be carried out. GreenRoots also demanded an apology.
“Our residents, who are majority BIPOC and low-income people, continue to sacrifice their health and environment for the good of the region,” the statement said. “The state’s total disregard for the lack of environmental protection measures is infuriating and idiotic.”
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