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I-Team: Hazardous Material From State Bridge Project Dumped Near Chelsea Homes

CHELSEA (CBS) - The sign on the uncovered pile of construction debris reads "DANGER" cancer causing asbestos. The hazardous material was dumped by the state Department of Transportation and or their contractors right next to a public housing development in Chelsea.

Roy Avellaneda is the City Council President in Chelsea. "They didn't even bother to put a cover on it," Avellaneda said. "There's gonna be hell to pay."

The I-Team found the contaminated pile off of Route 1 north at the Route 16 exit. We went straight to Chelsea officials and community leaders who had no idea it was there.

Rosanne Bongiovanni is the executive director of Green Roots an environmental justice community group. "I am infuriated by it, absolutely infuriated," Bongiovanni said. "Folks always say what is environmental justice? what is environmental racism? Here it is. This is a prime example of it. The state is dumping contaminated material next to low-income communities and communities of color."

The state Department of Environmental Protection says it gave the MassDOT the OK for what it calls a non-traditional plan to manage the contaminated materials, which was brought to Chelsea even though the debris came from a state bridge project on the Lynn-Saugus line.

Bongiovanni said the state would never do this to another community. "Would that pile be in Wellesley next to a residential neighborhood, uncovered asbestos? No way," she said.

This isn't the first time Chelsea butted heads with the state over health issues. In June of 2020, a WBZ-TV report highlighted noise and air pollution concerns from state contractors working on the Tobin Bridge.

Avellaneda says the city had to stop their construction project. "Their contractors were working in the middle of the night, would not be allowed in any other city or town and they had to make amends," Avellaneda said.

chelsea asbestos pile
A pile of debris containing asbestos in Chelsea. (WBZ-TV)

This time the material is dangerous. The I-Team showed a photo of the asbestos containing debris to UMass Amherst Public Health Professor Rick Peltier who said he couldn't believe it. "Asbestos has to be handled as a hazardous material," Peltier said. "The problem is that pile can be disturbed from the weather, or a child playing on it… once it gets in the air it becomes a real hazard to people."

Less than a day after the I-Team contacted the state, crews in hazmat suits showed up at the site to cover the dangerous material with a plastic tarp. But city officials and community activists say that is not enough.

Avellaneda told the I-Team. "Would you want this 100 feet from your home where your kids play? That's exactly what's going on. This goes all the way up the governor because these sort of actions should not be happening," he said.

Bongiovanni says the state needs to remove the pile immediately and should offer to test the homes that face the pile to see if asbestos got into any of the units where young children and families could have been breathing it in.

The Department of Environmental Protection says materials are being appropriately managed and air samples at the site don't show dangerous levels. The I-Team had a number of other questions for the state including why the debris was brought to the Chelsea area and when it will be removed, but did not hear back.

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