Demolition dust one more Chelsea burden
Work put on hold as remediation plan developed
TONY HERNANDEZ was sound asleep when his wife woke him up at around 1 a.m. on May 30 and told him to come outside. He got out of bed, went out the door, and saw dust drifting down from the sky and settling across his County Avenue neighborhood.
The source of the dust was demolition work on the Tobin Bridge and the Chelsea viaduct less than 200 yards away. As someone who works construction, Hernandez said he knew immediately that something was wrong. The dust should have been contained and the work should have been halted as soon as the dust started to escape the work site.
The dust stung his eyes and coated everything in sight. It was thick enough that he could easily use his finger to write what he was thinking on the hood of a car: “Dust – Only in Chelsea – 5/30 1:30 a.m.” (For a video of the dust falling click here.)
The commentary in dust was a reflection of how put-upon many Chelsea residents feel. They are surrounded by industries that contaminate the community’s air, water, and land, and they suffer from elevated rates of asthma, pulmonary and cardiovascular disease, and cancer. During the coronavirus pandemic, Chelsea has had the highest rate of infection of any community in the state.
On top of all that, the city is in the midst of a major state project to repair Route 1 as it travels over and through Chelsea via the Tobin Bridge and the Chelsea Viaduct. It’s a project that has been noisy and dirty from the start, but the demolition dust really angered people.
“That incident was the last straw,” said Tom Ambrosino, the city manager in Chelsea.
Alex Train, the assistant director of planning and development for Chelsea, said he met with a representative of the state’s contractor shortly after the dust incident. It had rained the night before, washing away much of the dust, but he said it was still visible in spots. Train noticed some dust was still being released during ongoing demolition work. “That caught us off-guard,” he said.
Train said the contractor blamed the large release of dust on May 30 on heavy winds that overwhelmed dust-suppression efforts. He said the contractor agreed to pay for car washes for local residents, but Chelsea officials wanted much more.
On June 9, Ambrosino, City Council President Roy Avellaneda, and Roseann Bongiovanni of the advocacy group GreenRoots sent a letter to the state highway administrator demanding “the most stringent air pollution and dust control measures available.” They also rallied local lawmakers.
The officials demanded much better dust collection, including “vacuuming/extraction” and continuous watering of areas being demolished, all debris stockpiles, and any debris being loaded and hauled away in trucks. The officials also recommended full encapsulation of the job site during demolition, as well as street sweeping and washing to remove any remaining dust.
The letter got the attention of state officials, but Bongiovanni wonders why getting that attention takes so much effort. “Why is it that Chelsea has to fight so hard to get officials to listen to us when we’re asking for what should be basic human rights? This would have never happened in Wellesley,” she said.
Avellaneda, the City Council president, said he thinks state officials are finally starting to realize how vulnerable Chelsea is. “They’re wary of piling on, given the situation that we’re in,” he said.