Whenever people become aware of the presence of asbestos, their natural reaction is to want to get as far away from the hazardous material as possible. This sometimes involves sending waste products to a landfill, which can potentially anger nearby residents about their own risk of asbestos exposure.
At Kazan Law, we keep track of disputes like this across the country. Recently, I read about the town of Dartmouth in Massachusetts, where members of the Town’s governing Select Board became enraged when they found out about a proposal to cap a nearby landfill with waste material from Boston, as reported by The Chronicle, a local news source. About 10 percent of this waste would be made up of heavy metals and asbestos.
‘A disaster for our neighborhood’
Up until the 1980s, the 23-acre Cecil Smith landfill served as a dump for demolition and construction materials that were used for urban renewal projects. Despite the fact that the landfill has been closed for about 30 years, the Boston Environmental Corp. submitted a plan to the state’s Department of Environmental Protection that proposes to excavate material from the wetlands, reshape unlined sections and cover everything with plastic membranes, soil and plants.
The 1.1 million cubic yards of soil would be mostly coal, ash or road sweepings. However, 10 percent of it would be made of heavy metals and asbestos.
“People should be outraged, and should be disappointed [with the Department of Environmental Protection’s handling of the site],” Selectman Michael Watson, a town official and science teacher, told the news source.
Other members of Dartmouth’s Select Board are voicing their concerns to the state legislators. Residents are also outraged about assertions from the Department of Environmental Protection that their children are not in danger.
“These materials should not be in our neighborhood,” resident Jean Couto told The Chronicle. “This whole project is going to be a disaster for our neighborhood.”
A town forum to discuss the matter further is scheduled for March 28, 2013.
What should happen to asbestos waste?
During the latter half of the 20th century, public health experts have become more aware of the link between asbestos and diseases such as malignant pleural mesothelioma, lung cancer and asbestosis. To help protect everyday consumers like you, these experts have said that any product that contains asbestos should be left alone because there is really no health risk unless the material is disturbed.
This leaves some people wondering: What do we do with these products when it’s time to throw them away?
All asbestos should be handled only by a trained professional. Once the material is properly contained, it can be sent to a landfill that is permitted to accept asbestos waste. However, this is currently a problem in Massachusetts because there are no such landfills in the state.
Waste material from construction or the remodeling of buildings that contain asbestos is just one way that material can contaminate soil. This can also happen if the asbestos is present in naturally occurring rocks.
The federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry has several tips for people who are worried about being exposed to asbestos through the soil around their houses:
- Let children play only in areas with ground covering, such as wood chips, mulch, sand, asphalt or rubber.
- When hiking or biking, stick only to paved trails.
- Pave over any roadways if you think the soil may contain asbestos.
- Keep windows or doors closed on windy days if there is a contaminated site nearby.
- Prevent pets from entering the home with dusty feet.
- Remove shoes before entering the home.
- Use doormats to wipe your feet.