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'Dirty' company to clean Russell Field

Below is an article from the May 13, 2004 Cambridge Chronicle
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From page 14 of the May 20,2004 Cambridge Chronicle (quoted here without editing):
An article in last week's Chronicle oversimplified the role of the Asbestos Ordinance on the Russell Field renovation project. Russell Field has been and is currently subject to the city's Asbestos Protection Ordinance. If they remove the appropriate amount of soil around the locations shown to have asbestos fibers at greater than 1 percent then the site can be de-listed and therefore no longer subject to the provisions of the ordinance."

'Dirty' company to clean field

By Deborah Eisner / Chronicle Staff
Thursday, May 13, 2004

The firm that's been hired to clean up contamination at the high school's varsity football field is one of the same companies that may have polluted Russell Field in the first place, officials and neighbors say.

Modern Continental, a Cambridge-based construction firm that will be paid $8.2 million to clean up and renovate the site, worked for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority during the construction of the Red Line in the 1980s and allegedly stored material containing asbestos and other contaminants on the North Cambridge playing field.

While City Solicitor Don Drisdell said Modern may be responsible for some of the asbestos contamination at Russell, he does not see a conflict of interest in hiring them.

"I am confident that Modern Continental will do its work at the site in compliance with all environmental regulations," Drisdell said. "It has not yet been demonstrated that Modern Continental is responsible. They are a potentially responsible party. I don't see any negative consequences here for the city."

But David Bass, a Norris Street resident, isn't convinced.

"One of the contractors involved in the cleanup ... is one of the potentially responsible parties, so there's angst," said Bass, a member of the Alewife Neighbors Inc., a nonprofit neighborhood organization.

W.R. Grace, which abuts the property, may also [be] responsible for some of the contamination, said Susanne Rasmussen, the city's director of environmental and transportation planning.

The city signed "standstill" agreements in 1998 with W.R. Grace, the MBTA, Modern Continental and other contractors. A "standstill" agreement waives the statute of limitations and will allow the city to seek compensation once it determines who is responsible for the original contamination.

Modern Continental issued a statement saying it only did "minor, cosmetic work" after the completion of the Red Line project and blamed the contamination on a "manufacturing plant located next to the field." W.R. Grace is the only manufacturing facility that abuts the field.

"Since Modern's work was performed soon after the Red Line construction work, Modern Continental was included in the investigation, but the minor, cosmetic work performed by Modern Continental did not lead to any contamination," the construction company said in a statement Tuesday.

The legal counsel for W.R. Grace said the company never dumped on the site but confirmed the standstill agreement.

Calls to the MBTA were not returned Tuesday.

Modern Continental, the 36th largest construction company in the country, has recently come under pressure for bad management and safety practices. The state announced Tuesday that the company, which is a lead contractor on the Big Dig, will no longer be eligible to bid on state highway projects, the Mass Highway Department said. The state cited missed deadlines and poor management of the widening of Route 3 from Burlington to the New Hampshire as reasons for the punishment.

"Modern Continental has been successfully performing quality work in Massachusetts for 37 years. Our record of accomplishment is unmatched. We have been meeting with the Massachusetts Highway Department to resolve their concerns," Modern said in a statement released Wednesday morning.

The company was also fined $371,000 last month by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for failing to protect its workers from cave-in, fall and drowning hazards on the Route 3 project. Modern Continental's environmental record is marred by a $10,000 fine and a $20,000 late fee stemming from a violation of the Public Waterfront Act in 2000 on the company's Boston property, according to the Department of Environmental Protection. That violation is separate from any work relating to the Red Line expansion.

The state's announcement puts city in an "interesting dilemma," Deputy City Manager Rich Rossi said. "I guess we'll have to take a look at it, which we will," he said when asked how the state action would impact the city's business with the company.

The state's action is not retroactive, so the Russell Field contract, which has already been awarded, will stand.

Modern has been doing some sewer work for the city and Rossi said "the satisfaction is pretty high" with the company's work.

The renovation of Russell Field will include a state-of-the-art football facility for Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, two Little League baseball diamonds and a soccer practice field. Construction is expected to begin in June and should last 13 months.

An extensive environmental inspection of the Russell Field site found eight "hot spots," seven of which are linked to asbestos fiber or debris, city officials and environmental activists told neighbors at a public meeting held May 5. Contaminants from polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which are typical components of asphalt, fuels, oils and greases, were found in the eighth hotspot.

The environmental study cost $875,000, Rasmussen said.

Three of the locations in which fibers were found directly abut the W.R. Grace site. During a construction project in the 1980s, W.R. Grace dumped soil on Russell Field, Rasmussen said. W.R. Grace denied this claim.

The city gave the state permission to use the field as its staging area for the construction of the Red Line, a practice questioned by residents and politicians.

"Does anyone in this room think this is a good idea? To take contaminated material and store it where children play?" asked Joe Joseph of Kassul Park.

City Councilor Anthony Galluccio, who has championed the renovation of Russell Field, also questioned the practice. "We need to hold the MBTA accountable. We let them use our land as a staging area, and they left us with a contaminated field," he said.

Galluccio was not at the meeting.

The North Cambridge residents who attended last week's meeting seemed satisfied that the field is and would be safe for public use. Representatives from Rizzo Associates and EnviroSense, two environmental cleanup firms hired by the city for this project, described cleanup techniques and assured residents that they will be in no danger during the process.

The four most dangerous hotspots, including all equipment being used, will be covered by tents during the cleanup, explained Eric Wood of EnviroSense.

Because the eight hotspots will be cleaned, the site is not subject to the city's Asbestos Ordinance.

Should W.R. Grace decide to develop its land in North Cambridge, similar precautions would likely be needed, a fact that has the neighborhood on edge.

"Again, I'm not that worried about this site. I'm more worried about the precedent," said Lew Weitzman of Montgomery Street.

Modern Continental will address the neighborhood's construction concerns at a yet-to-be-scheduled meeting that Rasmussen said will occur before the groundbreaking.

Contact Deborah Eisner at

Contact the Alewife Study Group, North Cambridge Massachusetts, by email at