‘Why Us?' MassDOT Dumps Soil Containing Asbestos Near Public Housing in Chelsea

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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A huge pile of soil containing asbestos — a substance known to cause cancer — was dumped in Chelsea, Massachusetts, along Route 1, very close to a public housing complex.

"It is absolutely ridiculous," said Maria Belen Power from GreenRoots. "It is unacceptable."

Power says this is a case of environmental racism, and it's putting residents at risk.

"This would have never happened in a community that was white and wealthy and had more political power," she said.

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

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."

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation, 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.

State officials say the soil will be removed in the next two to three weeks and taken out of state, possibly to New Hampshire.

They say the air quality is being tested.

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