Summer Street Hazardous Soil Clean Up to Begin near Davis Square
Neighbors Object to Health Risks, Inadequate Plan and Weak Oversight
Somerville, MA – This summer, more than 8,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil will be removed during the excavation phase of a new development behind the VFW George Dilboy Post in Davis Square. Neighbors who live near the Summer Street site are concerned since the soil was proven to contain hazardous levels of lead and gasoline by-products, as it was previously an auto repair shop and gas station.
The City approved the project, but it is unclear whether the recommendations by their environmental overseer (“Licensed Site Professional”) are being enforced, leaving residents highly concerned. Abutter Nancy Iappini states that, when an underground oil storage tank was ruptured last August during soil testing, “I became immediately nauseous and called the DEP who confirmed that an ‘immediate threat’ accident occurred requiring their involvement. The resultant spill had worsened the already-hazardous state of the site. Further, questionable actions related to clean up include the omission by the developer’s LSP of soil testing along my property line, claiming that there was ‘too much brush’ in the way. Photos taken by neighbors unarguably illustrate that all ground was fully cleared for the very purpose of soil testing in that location, not cherry picking where clean up would or would not occur. I am worried for my family’s health.”
More underground storage tanks are recorded to have been on the property, with no evidence of their being removed. Not only are abutters and neighbors at risk should any of these tanks rupture during construction, but the highly populated greater Davis Square community has reason for concern given that heavy-duty trucks will be making 600 trips through the Square to cart contaminated soil offsite and move it out of state to a toxic waste disposal facility. Residents are also disturbed by the developer’s plan to deliberately leave onsite the remainder of up to 22,500 cubic yards of potentially toxic soil. The building permit states that 22,302 square feet will be used to store low-level hazardous soil.
Neighbors have found that obtaining information from the City has been incredibly difficult. Also a public participation process under the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is substantially flawed. A meeting with the stakeholders was held in May. No City or DEP staff attended. Following the meeting, a formal public comment period was opened in which neighbors were allowed to submit questions and comments on the clean-up plan, yet the City’s issuance of a building permit allowed for construction to start three weeks before any answers were given. The City consultant’s initial review of the draft clean-up plan were ignored by the developer’s consultant in the document provided to community members. The neighbors are evaluating responses to their comments provided this week by the environmental consultant for the developer.
Joe Tierney, another Hawthorne Street neighbor asks, “who from the city will be on site to assure local residents that the contractor is satisfying all of the requirements of the Mass. Department of Environmental Protection for hazardous waste handling and disposal? Remember this site contains several toxic materials that are beyond safe concentration levels.”
“In my years of environmental and social justice advocacy, I have never seen an agency process where the project begins before a response to public comment is completed,” says Karina Wilkinson, a nearby homeowner. “It makes community health and safety a low priority.”
Abutter George O’Shea stated his concern that “the lack of complete soil testing and vast amount of soil not being removed from the site could be part of a cost cutting measure to leave undisturbed additional underground storage tanks which are confirmed to have existed on the site, since they are expensive to remove. Unidentified tanks would be old and could be leaking, resulting in even higher toxic levels than have already been found on the site. For a city with many documented contaminated sites, the clean-up process seems broken.”
Community concerns about the project at 343 – 349 and 351 Summer Street can be sent to the Somerville Board of Aldermen at: firstname.lastname@example.org.