Council tackles asbestos violations

GTA crew members work on Elm Street. (Photo By Jim Mahoney)

Approves special meeting to question city officials

By JOSH RESNEK

The city council unanimously approved a special measure Monday night to call a host of city officials led by the mayor to a meeting of a council committee headed by Stephanie Martins as soon as possible to discuss what the Attorney General has called “serious issues” about the illegal removal of asbestos and possible issues arising from asbestos contamination allegedly committed by the mayor’s favored city vendor.

The health and well-being of the city’s residents is my primary concern,” – Councilor Fred Capone

The discussion to ensue: how such a thing could be allowed to happen by the city’s largest vendor responsible for pipe replacements under the ground in the city’s streets as well as asbestos removal and storage.

That meeting could likely be called for next week, according to city council officials.

The council is demanding to discuss the issues around a lawsuit filed by the Attorney General’s office in the Superior Court against the local company GTA two weeks ago after almost three years of investigations and discussions, presumably with city officials.

That lawsuit details repeated violations by the vendor over a long period of time and the failure to answer requests and demands for action by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Safety.

Several councilors, led by Fred Capone, want to know the full extent of GTA’s involvement in asbestos removal violations and what, if any, health issues have been created by asbestos wafting around in the air in the city’s streets.

Capone wants to know when the city knew about this and why the council was not informed about the lawsuit and the possible contamination issue.

“The health and well-being of the city’s residents is my primary concern,” Capone told the Leader Herald.

AUGUST 3: The intersection of Cabot and Marlboro Streets. The area is part of a lawsuit filed by the state Attorney General against GTA construction for asbestos violations. (Photo By Jim Mahoney)

“What to do about the contractor is secondary. However,” he warned, “if the AG’s allegations are upheld, the level of arrogance and total disregard for residents is upheld, I would ask that this vendor never be allowed to work in the community again.”

Councilor and candidate for mayor Gerly Adrien said it was a “shame” there has been no statement from the mayor.

“I’m highly concerned. We need to address this. This is a very serious matter that many residents have asked me about,” she added.

That lawsuit alleges gross violations of state and federal laws governing asbestos containment and removal on Cabot Street, Cabot Court, Marlboro Street, and Wolcott Street and in other communities.

Councilors and candidates for mayor Adrien, Capone, and Councilor Mike
Marchese were adamant that the issue was serious and in need of scrutiny and testimony from city officials about how such contamination of so large a space on the city’s streets could have occurred.

Marchese wondered if the city is going to be sued if residents are shown to have contracted cancer and lung issues as a result of the asbestos contamination.

“Why is he still working?” Marchese asked of Antonelli, the owner of GTA. There should have been a suspension.”

The AG’s lawsuit detailed repeated violations of asbestos removal and containment by GTA, which included the burial of asbestos, improper removal of asbestos, and above the ground storage of asbestos-laden materials in open dumpsters and and piles, all of which are illegal and punishable with extraordinary fines — as much as $25,000 a day — for number of violations and the length of time the violations were allowed to occur.

Criminal charges might also be filed, according to the AG’s office.

The matter is now in Superior Court where GTA and its president Greg Antonelli will be defending themselves against the charges.

The mayor did not issue a statement. He did not appear at the meeting.

No city department heads spoke at the meeting.

Three councilors were absent from the meeting. Councilor Mike McLaughlin would have needed to recuse himself if he appeared.

He is employed by GTA.

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