Thursday, November 16, 2017

Environmental Injustice in Southside

Framingham is a community of over 68,000 people inhabiting an area of 25 square miles and possessing a diversity of neighborhoods and people.

Most of us are familiar with the lovely neighborhood of the Framingham Centre Village Green which is bordered by the Village Hall, the History Center and colonial churches. We look forward to the Farmer’s Market and the Concerts on the Common.

On the southeast corner of Framingham is an area about twice this size. It is bounded by Beaver Street, Leland Street and Irving Street. Within this densely populated area are three known toxic chemical sites. This is an Environmental Justice Neighborhood.

For over 100 years (late 1880s to 1960s) companies like Dennison Corporation, Old Colony Tar Company and Com Gas located factories there because the area possessed railroads, waterways and a ready population of workers. These businesses brought jobs and prosperity to Framingham. Their owners sat on our Town Boards and donated civic buildings. However they also polluted our land and waterways with carcinogenic toxins such as coal tar, coal tar creosote, lead, chromium, arsenic and cyanide.

The U.S. EPA defines Environmental Justice as “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, sex, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation and enforcement of environmental laws, regulation and policies.”

This Environmental Justice neighborhood has born an unfair burden of this pollution. Woodrow Wilson School on Leland Street was polluted by General Chemical, a fairly new business in the area. This has caused parents continued anguish about the physical and mental health of their children.

On September 9, 2014 the Mary Dennison Park playground on Beaver Street was fenced off because of high levels of lead. On January 9, 2015 another area of imminent danger containing high levels of arsenic and chromium was reported to DEP. Now their children have no playground and they need to worry about their long term exposure to toxic chemicals which can affect their nervous systems and ability to learn.

On October 3, 2014 Patch newspaper reported “State to Audit a Third Toxic Site in One Framingham Neighborhood.” Mass DEP was about to investigate a former Boston Gas site, where levels of toxins including coal tar, arsenic and cyanide had been detected.

This 20 acre Irving Street property which is owned by Northeast Utilities (now called Eversource) was listed as a watch site in a 2002 Superfund report but in order for the Town to collect $2 million in back taxes an agreement was struck to give a tenant, Landscape Depot, a 3 year special permit. Landscape Depot and NSTAR were required to clean up the land but they have not done so. Landscape Depot’s permit expired in 2009 but they continue to truck in old fences, decks, and tree stumps. This contaminated wood is ground into mulch which sits on the polluted land and is then sold as “Enviro-mulch”.

Of grave concern is that fact that mulch piles spontaneously catch fire. Landscape Depot has no accessible water on its property so in the last 4 years the Framingham Fire Department has made 14 calls to this property to put out their fires. The toxic fumes from these fires threaten the health and safety of the residents in this neighborhood.

Fire Department report on mulch fire at 350 Irving Street - September 9, 2014 “E3 had this call in the middle of the night. We laid 900 feet of supply and pumped the spare ladder for almost 2 hours to extinguish the fire. At that time the DPW sent out a front end loader to help turn the pile over. The PD closed the road for the entire operation due to no hydrant on that side of the road. The pile is very wide and smoldering in many areas. We need to have access around the entire area and the vegetation needs to either be cut back, or the pile needs to be moved. The closest hydrant is at least a thousand feet from the rear of the pile and it didn’t give much more than 500 GPM.”

Fire Department Report - September 28, 2014 “On arrival E3 found a bark mulch pile smoldering in several areas. After investigation we found that it was on fire at the rear section of the pile. E3 emptied one tank onto the fire and called for a loader to turn the pile over….After investigation E3 found the pile to be at least 40 feet high with a very small access way to get around (not wide enough for Fire Apparatus). We also found 8 to 10’ high vegetation was within 6 feet in some areas of pile. This vegetation was dry and goes on for what seems to be acres. The deputy was notified and agreed that there is a dangerous condition with the vegetation being that close, especially with the height of the pile and no real access to the rear of it.” In this small Environmental Justice neighborhood residents have been assaulted by pollution on the land at their school and playground and in the air they breathe. Landscape Depot should be denied any permits until the environment issues have been properly addressed by the property owner, Northeast Utilities.

-- Judith Grove