Removal of debris pile contaminated with asbestos in Chelsea underway

CHELSEA (CBS) — Crews in Chelsea began removing a pile of hazardous debris that is contaminated with asbestos Friday. It will take weeks to remove all the material.

MassDEP approved the removal setup during an inspection on Wednesday.

The WBZ-TV I-Team discovered the pile which is off of Route 1 north at the Route 16 exit and next to a public housing development in Chelsea. When the I-Team contacted Chelsea officials and community leaders, they had no idea it was there.

Less than a day after the I-Team contacted the state, crews in hazardous material suits showed up at the site to cover the pile with a plastic tarp.

First, crews lined the inside of the trucks with a black plastic, then hosed down sections of the pile with water to prevent the dangerous dust from kicking up. At the same time, a heavy machinery operator using a forklift began loading the hazardous material into a truck.

Soon after the report aired, the state apologized and promised to remove the pile.

“We’re thrilled that they are moving the pile, but we remain concerned, especially as they start to move the debris out. But that’s going to be more hazardous and more dangerous as they are moving it, and the asbestos can become airborn,” said Roseann Bongiovanni, environmental activist with “Green Roots.”

Additional air monitors will be placed on the edge of Route 1 south while the removal is underway.

“Asbestos is always concerning. There is no safe level of asbestos. A giant pile of soil that has material that’s mostly soil, but it contain asbestos is no different than a pile of asbestos. We have to treat it as hazardous, and it’s a threat to people who live nearby,” said Rick Peltier, UMass Amherst Public Health Professor.

The city tested the homes near the pile last week with negative results. The state’s daily records of air monitoring during the removal show no significant reportable levels of asbestos. That testing is ongoing. Meanwhile, community advocates say the state’s dumping is environmental racism, and are demanding more be done.

“We continue to put pressure on the state and are calling on the attorney general to take action for their failures to folks in Chelsea.”

Environmental justice advocates also planning to hold a community meeting next week.  To address residents concerns, the removal process is expected to take about 30 days.