Several members of the City Council are demanding answers about the apparent lack of oversight by the City for an Everett-based contractor who is alleged by Attorney General Maura Healey to potentially have exposed the public to asbestos three years ago while doing underground pipe work in the Ward 1 area.
The allegations, which were filed late last month by AG Healey’s Office in a civil lawsuit at Suffolk Superior Court against GTA Inc., of Everett, involve work done in 2018 in Everett and Braintree. It is alleged in the complaint by AG Healey that GTA violated the state’s Clean Air Act when they removed and demolished asbestos-containing municipal water pipes without complying with required asbestos work practices as part of the water main replacement projects the City of Everett and the Town of Braintree hired them to complete. The suit also alleges that GTA left uncontained asbestos-contaminated debris on the ground and in open dumpsters along Cabot and Marlboro Streets in Everett, as well as one location in Braintree. Asbestos is a hazardous material that can cause cancer if one breaths it in under specific conditions.
GTA did not comment on the matter by press time.
On Monday night, the Council held a Special Meeting to address the issue and begin looking at what happened, or did not happen with the work done in Everett.
Councilor Fred Capone, and the rest of the Council, did not name the contractor, but wanted to find out when the City knew of the issues with alleged mishandling of asbestos. He said, if true, the disregard for resident safety on the roads in his ward are troubling.
“If it does turn out these allegations are upheld, the counts and charges alleged in the lawsuit, the level of arrogance (by the contractor) alleged and the total disregard for resident safety, I would ask that this contractor be banned from future work in the City,” said Capone, noting that GTA is one of the largest City public works contractors and has ongoing work right now in the city.
“One concern I have is this happened in 2018, and it happened in my ward, and I didn’t hear about it until three years later when it became part of a lawsuit,” he said. “That’s a serious concern. I would like to know when the City was first notified about this.”
Capone said that if the allegations are upheld, he would like part of the agreement to be that residents in the affected areas be able to get tested for any medical issues at the expense of the contractor.
Councilor Michael Marchese said he was very concerned about the matter, and hoped to get more answers once it goes to committee.
“If this is an issue in 2017, why is this contractor working here still?” he asked. “As a Council we have a priority to make sure the people of Everett aren’t exposed to anything dangerous. If this happened in 2017, there should have been some acknowledgement then and some suspension…I just hope its not going on even now…I hope for the sake of the workers and people of Everett, they haven’t been exposed to this and that I haven’t been exposed to it as well. Everyone should be concerned that this happened.”
Councilor Gerly Adrien said it was a dangerous allegation because, if true, it potentially compromised the health of residents on those streets.
“We’re talking about people’s health,” she said. “I’m extremely concerned…For the City Council, we had to hear about this from the media and not the administration. We have to ask what else is being hidden and what else we should know about. We have to put the health of our residents first…It’s not about money or relationships or who we are friends with. I think the administration needs to go through a training on how to do contracts and other such things.”
Mayor Carlo DeMaria said in a statement, “In May of 2018, the Massachusetts DEP received a complaint regarding work being done by a private contractor on a municipal water contract in Everett. The City required this work to be done in compliance with all applicable federal, state and local environmental requirements. Upon review of the site, DEP ordered that work be stopped immediately and appropriate abatement steps be taken by the contractor. The City has fully cooperated with and supported the enforcement efforts of DEP and the Attorney General’s Office as they have taken respective enforcement actions related to this matter.”
The lawsuit filed late last month by AG Healey alleged the Clean Air Act violations, the mishandling of asbestos, and also alleged a False Claims Act violation by the contractor in regards to the issues in Braintree. The case was originally referred to AG Healey by the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).
A second piece of the lawsuit comes against Revere-based EZ Disposal/Capitol Waste. The lawsuit claims they were hired to transport asbestos debris from the Everett worksite, failed to contain and store the asbestos-contaminated waste safely while transporting it to an EZ Disposal facility in Revere, and that they and the owners of the EZ Disposal facility, Ricmer Properties, Inc., and 413-419 Bremen Street, LLC, unsafely and illegally stored it at that facility in violation of the state’s Clean Air Act.
“We allege that these defendants put the health of the public and their workers at risk by conducting illegal and unsafe asbestos work in the middle of city streets, including in environmental justice communities that already bear disproportionate environmental risks,” said AG Healey upon announcing the lawsuit publicly. “We will hold accountable people and companies who violate the laws intended to protect the public from this dangerous material.”
According to information from the AG’s Office, asbestos is a mineral fiber that has been used in a wide variety of building materials, from roofing and flooring, to siding and wallboard, to caulking and insulation. If asbestos is improperly handled or maintained, fibers can be released into the air and inhaled, potentially resulting in life-threatening illnesses, including asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma. Asbestosis is a serious, progressive, and long-term disease for which there is no known effective treatment. Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that is found in the thin membranes of the lung, chest, abdomen, and heart, that may not show up until many years after exposure, and that has no known cure, although treatment methods are available to address the effects of the disease.
AG Healey’s Office has made asbestos safety a priority, they said.