Alewife Study Group > asbestos > August 25 1999 1999, Cambridge ordinance committee hearing - Sam Lipson statements Search 

Statements by Sam Lipson, Director of Environmental Health for the City of Cambridge, at the Ordinance Committee hearing, August 25 1999

I don't believe there is any specific amount which would trigger the provisions of this ordinance. I don't think there's a minimum threshold.

[Councillor Russell: "Does the state have a minimum?"]

The state has an interesting relationship with asbestos in soil. On the one hand they have no tolerance; any amount found required that they respond in some way that it be dealt with in the Massachusetts Contingency Plan. In other words, there is no allowable level, right now, of asbestos in soil.

[The State lists the "reportable quantity" of asbestos as 1 lb. with no "reportable concentration" specified. Also, it specifies a limit of 0.0002 fibers/ml (24 hour average) Threshold Effects Exposure Limit for ambient air, and a 0.000004 fibers/ml (annual average) Allowable Ambient Limit.]

How that's dealt with is a matter of using best judgment, right now, and they have submitted guidelines on a case-by-case basis to property owners and responsible parties as to how they should then address the presence of asbestos in the soil on a property.

But unlike all the other chemicals that are regulated, there isn't an allowable level that's published.

I agree with the goal here of trying to give further protection to people living in the cities where it is felt that it is not sufficiently covered by the state law. My personal view is there are gaps in the state law; there are gaps in what is actually required. When you rely on guidelines rather than on actual regulation, it is possible to get around this. Those guidelines aren't binding, and I think that that's inappropriate. I think that there should be binding requirements, minimum performance standards for anyone who onws property where asbestos is found.

I believe the DEP has come up with guidelines for at least one property where this has known to have occurred, that I think we all are familiar with. Those guidelines have been issued in response to some public comment and city comment. I believe that they are very effective measures that a property owner must take to protect public health and safety in the event that asbestos-containing material is found on the property.

I do, however, believe that those measures should not be guidelines. I think those measures should be binding. I think that it's dangerous to have the situation when in one case it's dealt with in one way, and in another case it's another way, and in any case it's a guideline.

And in that very fundamental way, I agree with the intent of the proposal: that it is reasonable to have some greater assurance than what the DEP provides. I think that there should be minimum performance standards for management of soil that is known to contain asbestos. I think that there is some measure of material assurance [required] above and beyond this being a commitment and an obligation on the part of the property owner.

I think there is a problem here which is the lack of assurance that this is in fact being carried out. It's one thing to have it stated in a guideline, or even a regulation, but if we don't know what's happening, then the confidence that people are being protected is just not going to be there.

So on a second count, I believe I also agree with the intent of this proposal which is that there should be a role in the city for the local government to be able to monitor, or somehow verify in a material sense, that the proper measures were in fact taken on that property, that we don't simply leave it up to the owners of the property or the engineers that have been hired by those people. I think local government can be effective in ensuring that the public has been protected and in reviewing monitoring data from a property where materials have been found during any soil-disturbing activities.

I'm sure that one that it is discovered, that a cease and desist order is something that can be issued once it is known that these exceedances have occurred. And the problems with the structure of this ordinance [are] that you have to look at how it's going to be enforced and whether it can be enforced realistically. I think that using practices which are employed widely within the industry around the country and are recommended by the state is a good place to start.



Contact the Alewife Study Group, North Cambridge Massachusetts, by email at information@alewife.org