MANCHESTER — The renovation of the sprawling Mill West complex, portions of which are being converted into apartments, is being investigated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, after high levels of lead were detected in construction dust.
The dust had fallen on household belongings stacked in an Extra Space Storage unit leased by Bedford resident Aaron Olejarz. He ran tests on the dust, after his father noted that the belongings were underneath a second-floor window that had recently been installed, he said.
The Olejarzes shared the test results, which showed lead that exceeded acceptable levels by a factor of more than 20.
"It is clear from the visual assessment, photos and laboratory samples that belongings were contaminated with lead, most likely from nearby renovations," reads the Dec. 10 report, issued by Bedford-based American Environmental Testing Services.
Extra Space Storage is located in Mill West, the sprawling West Side mill complex, portions of which are under renovation by Brady-Sullivan Properties, which plans to convert space to upscale apartments.
Olejarz' father, who contacted the New Hampshire Union Leader about the issue, questions how many other storage areas have been contaminated.
Olejarz paid Extra Space Storage, a national company with sites in 37 states, $186 a month to rent the space.
After weeks of going back and forth, Frank Olejarz said Extra Space offered to pay the $2,600 in cleaning costs, but only if they sign a waiver and pledge not to disclose the contamination. Frank Olejarz said they refused.
"What they should be saying is 'by the way, we're going to notify everyone else,'" Olejarz said.
Extra Space, which is headquartered in Salt Lake City, on Thursday said Olejarz was the first customer to inform the company about the matter."At this time we are in an exploratory phase trying to assess the breadth and scope of the issue," wrote Clint Halverson, Extra Space vice president for corporate communication.
Halverson said Extra Space is working with the property owner, which is renovating the building, to "understand the extent and impact, as well as possible remediation."
Brady-Sullivan Properties, which owns portions of the structure, always follows lead-safe laws when it comes to work on its properties, said Marc Pinard, general counsel for Brady-Sullivan.
"We do not believe there are any conditions over there that are not in compliance with local, state and federal law," Pinard said.
However, state and federal officials said most lead-safe laws apply to residential properties and properties, such as day care centers, that are frequented by children. Standards are more lax for other properties.
Pinard said the EPA has contacted Brady-Sullivan, and the company has brought in an environmental consultant.
Extra Space rents about 70,000 square feet of space from Brady-Sullivan, Pinard said.
Brady-Sullivan is not installing windows in the Extra Space portion of the building, Pinard said, but he acknowledged a window was installed where the Olejarz storage unit was located.
He said the window replaced a plywood board that covered the window space. As far as Pinard knows, that was the only window that was replaced in the Extra Space Storage area.
But Aaron Olejarz said he's worried about other storage-area customers. Although the storage units are metal, the roofs are only chicken wire, which allows construction debris to fall on the material.
"As soon as you see children's belongings pushed up against windows, do you keep quiet?" he said.
Emily Zimmerman, a spokesman for the New England-region EPA, said the organization received a complaint about the property and a lead inspector is investigating the issue.
The building houses commercial tenants that range from a Subway restaurant to Catholic Medical Center offices.The state Department of Health and Human Services, which also leases space in the building, is looking to see if renovations affected its Manchester office. Mike Dumond, chief for the department's Bureau of Prevention Services, said children frequent the office."I think it bears checking out by our own lead staff," he said.