A bit of citizen action has helped prevent the furthering of some disruptive and dangerous demolition in Wilmington, MA recently.
It’s not atypical for demolition projects to occur, but for neighbors to be the flag raisers at the first signs of improper handling of hazardous materials, is a unique scenario. That’s what happened at 13 Muse Avenue, when an old house, built more than 100 years ago, was demolished. After neighbors submitted complaints to officials at the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) and the Town of Wilmington that rules that regulate proper asbestos removal weren’t being followed, MassDEP ordered the work to be halted.
State and federal rules require a work stoppage as soon as asbestos is discovered at a site until a plan for its safe removal can be drafted. It was found that the siding of the home contained asbestos.
The town received the demolition permit the day before the complaint was filed by a resident about the improper asbestos removal. Several days later, the contractor met with MassDEP, which approved the asbestos removal plan. However, once work continued, neighbors remained concerned with the contractor’s practices, attending the Select Board meeting to voice their apprehension.
One neighbor, Dave Norton, was particularly worried about his granddaughter and his neighbors after the demolition triggered a cloud of asbestos dust. “I just was infuriated that the town would allow this to happen,” Norton said.
Thankfully, the complaints helped MassDEP order the contractor to be removed from the project, but not after the damage had been done. Now, a state-approved firm has been brought in to remove the known carcinogenic materials.
The town admits that the contractor initially took zero steps to contain the cancer-causing dust. “It seems to me that the gentleman was expecting that he would be able to just do the work, nobody would make an issue about it and he would save a little money,” the Wilmington town manager said.
Relying solely on “good-faith,” the town has admitted that its regulations made no requirement for contractors to require proof of how they’d handle asbestos removal safely. However, this instance has sparked change at the municipal level, with specific language now being drafted that would mandate contractors to submit to the town a game plan for handling asbestos.
The town has formally apologized to residents and says the contractor is likely to face both local and state fines.
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