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North Suburban News

Woburn Construction Project Raises Health Concerns

Apr 16, 2019 05:17PM ● By Dan Marra

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WOBURN – The state legislatures in the Woburn and Wilmington area wrote a letter to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection asking for the state agency to take “urgent action” regarding the Ledges construction project at 1042 Main Street in Woburn.

Of particular concern is the 420,000 cubic yards of soil that will be removed through blasting. According to the letter, which was signed by Representatives David Robertson, Richard Haggerty and Kenneth Gordon, as well as Senators Cindy Friedman and Bruce Tarr, their biggest concern is the amount of silica dust that will be sent into the air.

Silica dust has been linked to a number of different cancers, can increase the risks COPD and can cause silicosis, a type of lung disease.

The multi-year construction project, which includes blasting and removing of heavy rock, is taking place along North Main Street in Woburn, near Briarwood and Driftwood, down the street from St. Anthony’s and the Altavesta Elementary School.

Residents of the area, along with the city of Woburn, fought the 168-unit housing development for years, taking to court the state’s Housing Appeals Committee, which granted approval for this project after Woburn’s ZBA declined the application. After an appeals court sided with the developer and the state Supreme Court declined to hear the case, the project was able to move forward.

But this letter raises additional concerns for residents in the area.

“While we support accessible and affordable housing opportunities in the greater Boston area, the impact the proposed project has on the surrounding neighborhoods in terms of dust, noise and construct on an environmentally damaged plot leads us to believe that such a project’s negatives far outweigh any perceived benefits,” the letter to the DEP reads.

The letter also cites concerns from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in regards to silica dust, recommending that “workers who deal with silica change their clothes and park their vehicles in sheltered areas at the worksite.” According to the letter, the dust that falls on cars or clothing can increase the chances of someone becoming ill.

“The residents of Woburn and Wilmington do not have this luxury, and instead are forced to be exposed to contaminants without any choice but to abandon their homes,” the letter reads. “This is egregious.”

Construction and blasting at the site began last week,with residents still in their homes and students still attending school.

"MassDEP has received the letter from local legislators concerning the Woburn Ledges project, and we will be providing a timely response to the legislators,” a spokesperson for DEP said in a statement. “The City of Woburn – through its health inspector and building and fire departments – have primary oversight and are actively monitoring the project. MassDEP has conferred with the health inspector to date, and we plan to continue to communicate with local officials. At this time, the developer has not applied for any permits from MassDEP, but we plan to talk with the proponent about project details and concerns that have been raised to date.”

The letter goes on to raise concerns about water runoff from the Olin Chemical site, which, while closed down in 1986, on-site disposal practices led to groundwater contamination forcing the closure of town drinking water in 2002, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The letter expresses concern that the removal of so much topsoil would lead the chemicals to spread.

“The Wilmington area cancer study is still an ongoing matter, and evidence suggests there may be a correlation between the appearance of rare cancers and the chemicals present in the Woburn/Wilmington watershed,” the letter reads.

According to Representative Robertson, no study of the soil has been done as of yet, but the concerns of the silica dust, as well as the Olin Chemical Plant, should be enough for there to be a moratorium placed on the project until that area is safe.

The legislatures stressed the urgency of the matter, as it pleaded with DEP to intervene.

“We ask that [the DEP], within your powers, take into account our objections with the project so the good people of Woburn and Wilmington do not lose their health, homes or happiness," the letter reads.

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