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EPA probes alleged asbestos dumping from Mill West building

New Hampshire Union Leader

April 19. 2016 10:47PM

An environmental services truck is shown parked in the lot at Lofts at Mill West in Manchester in May. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

MANCHESTER — The EPA has undertaken an investigation into the alleged dumping of toxic sandblasting grit last year from the Brady Sullivan-owned Mill West properties at a mill complex in Lawrence, Mass.

On Tuesday, New Hampshire Public Radio reported about emails exchanged in September among New Hampshire officials, Mass­achusetts environmental officials and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The emails discuss “black beauty” sandblast grit that had been discovered at the Pacific Mills Industrial Complex in Lawrence.

The grit tested at 70 percent chrysotile asbestos — the most common form of the substance — and an informant had told officials with the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection that it had come from Mill West in Manchester, according to the emails published by NHPR.

The informant said some of the 10 truckloads of grit from Manchester had been disposed of in the basement cement of a Lawrence building; several piles were found outside the mill building.

In a statement, Brady Sullivan said it leases a portion of the Pacific Mills complex.

“Brady Sullivan has performed an initial investigation regarding the allegations contained in the NHPR report. As of this time, we are highly confident that Brady Sullivan has engaged in no wrongdoing, or illegal activity, at the Pacific Mills project in Lawrence, Massachusetts,” the company said in an email to the Union Leader on Tuesday.

The company said officials spoke with the Massachusetts DEP, and it is not uncommon for rogue contractors to illegally dump material; Brady Sullivan does not know where the material came from, the company said in a statement.

At the direction of the Massachusetts DEP, Brady Sullivan’s contractor has placed the material in 55-gallon drums and is awaiting permission to properly dispose of it, the company said.

In an email to the Union Leader on Tuesday, the EPA said it “does not comment on or discuss ongoing investigations. We’ll be sure to get you anything if/when we have something.”

If the information turns out to be correct, it represents a ratcheting up of health and environmental concerns to emerge from the Mill West complex, which Brady Sullivan has converted into upscale residential lofts and offices for government and non-profit organizations.

Last year, Manchester and New Hampshire officials forced Brady Sullivan Properties to shut down a contractor’s sandblasting operation and clean many apartments after residents found high levels of lead in stairwells and apartments at the Mill West complex.

Forty-four tenants have since sued Brady Sullivan Properties, one of the largest commercial property owners in Manchester.

The sandblasting operation was run by Environmental Compliance Specialist Inc., according to previous news accounts.

Environmental Compliance Specialist Inc. is the contractor identified in a September email that the Massachusetts DEP sent to New Hampshire officials who oversaw the Mill West cleanup. The DEP had spoken to a confidential informant who said the black beauty grit had come from Mill West.

“Please let me know if you saw anything like this up there and what (contractor) ECSI said they did with the spent black beauty and asbestos,” reads an email from the DEP to New Hampshire state officials.

Within a day, criminal and civil investigators with the EPA were holding a teleconference with environmental and health regulators in both states. And the EPA was asking for photos of the sandblast debris at Mill West.

“In regard to allegations concerning Brady Sullivan/ECSI, to include allegations of illegal disposal of lead and asbestos in the Lawrence, Mass. area this week, several of us thought a conference call to discuss the current status of both the civil and criminal investigations at the federal and state made sense,” wrote Tyler Amon, special agent in charge of the EPA Criminal Investigation Division, on Sept. 23.

The teleconference was scheduled for the following day.

Meanwhile, the lawyer handling the tenants suit against Brady Sullivan said Tuesday that the emails raise additional concerns for his clients. While Brady Sullivan has cleaned and retested the properties for lead, no mention was made of asbestos at the time.

“This puts another whole level on it,” said Christopher Seufert of Franklin. “Asbestos exposure, it’s a 20- to 30-year incubation period before you get lung cancer.”

He said the trial in the civil suit is scheduled for December.

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