Air Quality Testing Finds No Asbestos in Chelsea Public Housing Near Dump Site

Soil and debris from a Massachusetts Department of Transportation bridge replacement project that was dumped along Route 1 in Chelsea has been found to contain asbestos, drawing accusations of environmental racism

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After a pile of soil containing asbestos was dumped in Chelsea, Massachusetts, along Route 1 near a public housing complex, the city says indoor air quality testing found no presence of the dangerous substance.

Asbestos is known to cause cancer, and the proximity of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation dump site to the housing complex drew accusations of environmental racism.

According to a notice posted Monday, the city had an environmental consultation, CDW Consultants, conduct on-site air sampling inside the Chelsea Housing Authority properties near the site. That testing included individual units, common areas and the ventilation systems. All testing came back negative for the presence of asbestos.

CDW will also test soil samples from the property, but those results are not yet available. The company was also tasked with continuing to monitor air quality when MassDOT's contractor removes the materials, which is expected to start this week and could last around 30 days.

The soil and debris that was left came from a bridge replacement project on the Lynn/Saugus line.

At first, the soil wasn't even covered up by the white tarp that has now been placed there.

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The soil pile after it was covered

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City officials say they had no idea the hazardous soil was brought there until it just came to light this week.

"Horrified, shocked, that this had happened," said City Council President Roy Avellaneda. "Without a heads-up. No one was told of this."

MassDOT, which is in charge of the bridge project, has sent a letter to the city saying the amount of contaminated material is small, and the health and safety of the community is not at risk.

Gov. Charlie Baker says the assertion that the soil was dumped in Chelsea because it's a low-income, immigrant community is not true.

"Our track record on this one is pretty clear with respect to the way we deal with and respect and admire and support the folks in Chelsea, so I categorically reject that argument," Baker said.

For the hundreds of residents living in the apartment complex, they're left wondering what's lurking in the dirt just outside their homes.

"Shame on them," said Katherinne Zabaleta-Alvarado. "Like, why us? I get it, we're a low-income community, but really, us?"

"The State of Massachusetts from Governor Charlie Baker to MassDOT and MA DEP are fully responsible for poisoning Chelsea residents and using environmental justice communities like Chelsea as dumping grounds," GreenRoots said in a statement Friday. "We demand accountability and a full apology to the residents of Chelsea who are already burdened by environmental hazards and toxic waste. This assault on our residents only adds to the list of harmful injustices low-income, immigrant and communities of color endure."

GreenRoots went on to say that residents of Chelsea would be exposed to asbestos for another 30 days, demanding a Supplement Environmental Project agreement; permanent air filters and air monitors; soil remadiation and asbestos testing in nearby apartments.

"The people of Chelsea are not disposable and we will not allow our community to be a sacrifice zone," GreenRoots said.

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