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I-Team: State Apologizes For Dumping Hazardous Material In Chelsea

CHELSEA (CBS) - Angry residents who live in public housing can see the pile of asbestos from their Chelsea apartment. The state Department of Transportation dumped the contaminated material there without telling anyone.

Catherine Zabaleta-Alvarado and her mom tell the I-Team the state wouldn't bring the dangerous materials to a white neighborhood. "Most of the people who live here are Hispanic," Catherine's mother said. "I think it's maybe racist. Because they don't care about Hispanic people."

"They would not bring this to a white neighborhood," Catherine said.

The I-Team first reported on the uncovered pile of contaminated construction debris with danger signs taped around it on Wednesday. After we started asking questions, hazmat crews showed up to cover it up.

"They would have never covered it if this issue wasn't uncovered by you," said Maria Belen, executive director of Green Roots, an environmental justice group. "We would have never known. The fact that it takes an investigative reporter to tell Chelsea that we are being exposed to asbestos, a public housing development, that are probably the most vulnerable folks. This is unbelievable."

After our report aired, Chelsea officials got a letter from MassDOT looking to apologize. The letter said the dangerous materials were being temporarily stockpiled in Chelsea, even though the debris came from a bridge on the Lynn-Saugus line.

It also said, the volume of asbestos debris within the stockpile is small and does not present a threat to public safety or health, but public health experts say that is not true. Rick Peltier, a professor at UMass Amherst, said even at very low levels there is a health risk with asbestos.

The state Department of Environmental Protection signed off on allowing MassDOT to put the hazardous waste in Chelsea near homes that will now have to be tested. Chelsea City Council President Roy Avellaneda says DEP needs to do a better job protecting Chelsea and the city will do its own air testing.

"We don't want to take anyone's word for it anymore," Avellaneda said.

The state says it plans to remove the debris within the next two to three weeks, but environmental justice groups say they want it done immediately and are demanding the governor get involved.

Statement from MassDOT:

MassDOT is working closely with the Department of Environmental Protection, the City of Chelsea and other stakeholders to resolve the issues in Chelsea. MassDOT notified DEP as soon as the test results confirmed the material was non-friable asbestos containing material. Prior to moving the temporarily stockpiled material, the contractor's licensed site professional's initial test determined that there were not reportable levels of contamination. MassDOT has complied with all DEP regulations on reporting. Soil began being stockpiled during the late-summer 2021. This location is just one of many locations of laydown space across the Commonwealth that are frequently used for construction purposes.

MassDOT has implemented measures to ensure full compliance with the workplan and amendments submitted to and approved by MassDEP. After on-site consultation with MassDEP on Wednesday, May 4, MassDOT re-covered the entire stockpile. This work was completed on Wednesday, May 4.

MassDOT will be removing the material and restoring the interchange area as soon as possible. It is anticipated this work will begin within the next two to three weeks and will be brought to an out-of-state facility. Our contractor is currently working with New, Hampshire, New York, or Ohio.

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