Alewife Study Group > W. R. Grace site > community feedback > May. 7 1998, asbestos was manufactured Search 

Asbestos manufactured at W. R. Grace site
(under ownership and operation by Dewey and Almy)

(Note: the attachments mentioned in the letter are not included on the website, because they were not available in digital form.)

May 7, 1998

David B. Struhs
Commonwealth of Massachusetts
Executive Office of Environmental Affairs
Department of Environmental Protection
Metropolitan Boston - Northeast Regional Office

Dear Commissioner Struhs:

On November 20, 1997, The Alewife Study Group informed your office of documentation regarding evidence of Asbestos friction product manufacture at the W.R. Grace facility (then Dewey & Almy) at 62 Whittemore Ave. in Cambridge, RTN 3-0277 (see attachment #1). In that letter, we pointed out that the "knew or should have known" standard regarding how knowledge held by individual members of a corporation can be imputed to an organization was applicable. In addition, we pointed out that the Licensed Site Professional (LSP) assigned to the Whittemore Ave. site is required to disclose all pertinent facts regarding circumstances to the Potentially Responsible Party (PRP). As you know, the Rule of Professional Conduct 309 CMR Section 4.03 (5) states that:

"A licensed site professional shall make a good faith and reasonable effort to identify and obtain the relevant and material facts, data, reports and other information evidencing conditions at a site that his or her client possesses or that is otherwise readily available, and identify and obtain such additional data and other information as he or she deems necessary to discharge his or her professional obligations under M.G.L. 21A # 19 through 19J, and 309 CMR."

In our November communication to your office, we asked respectfully that W.R. Grace be required to provide a 'full accounting' for the omission of asbestos usage in their 1987 data assessment, and to implement a plan for asbestos field testing. At that time, we felt that it was in the interest of all parties to waive a justifiable request that the Phase III permit be revoked and that W.R. Grace be required to return to Phase I for the purpose of revising their historical description and assessment.

While it is significant to note that W.R. Grace has agreed to implement a testing plan, recent information has come to our attention that calls the descriptive basis of that plan into question. On January 13, 1998, representations were made by W.R. Grace to your office that:

"The only other asbestos-related activity that Grace has been able to identify at the Cambridge location occurred in the late 1 960s and early 1 970s when occasional laboratory analysis and research was con-ducted on small amounts of asbestos containing fireproofing materials." (see A attachment 2)

Recently received information (attachment # 3) would indicate that contrary to Grace's assertion, large not "small" volumes of asbestos were shipped to the 62 Whittemore Avenue facility on a periodic basis during the mid seventies. Due to the quantities involved, the utilization of this asbestos and the disposal of any associated waste product require a fuller description than has been presented thus far. Moreover. Grace's insistence that the asbestos sampling plan be limited to known historical uses becomes increasingly specious as a guiding principle if the frequency and volume of these deliveries suggest at the least that contrary to Grace's claim, utilization of asbestos at this facility during the mid and later seventies was more than "occasional". If Grace cannot describe this aspect of asbestos use at the site more fully and more candidly, then it serves no one's interest to proceed on such a narrow and potentially obfuscatory basis. If asbestos quantities as suggested by the accompanying documentation were used at this facility, and Grace will not or can not and by this date has not described this use specifically and fully. then the community's interest can only be served by a full screening of the site.

At this point, the community would like to make two requests. First, we request that the DEP rescind the Phase III permit until Phase I has been satisfactorily amended and hence completed. Such a decision would underscore the meaning and intent of the phasing scheme. Secondly, we would request that the DEP become more actively involved in the asbestos use description aspect of the site characterization and the way in which it relates to justification of any proposed sampling plan. The reason for this second request is that several aspects of the original proposal were in need of adjustment as explained in a February 27, 1998 letter (See Attachment # 4). Specifically, we want to know how Grace should adjust their plan to accommodate these concerns. It would be helpful if the DEP would comment on the substance of these concerns raised by the community.

On another level, the community would like to express its displeasure with W.R. Grace's seeming unwillingness to share completely its knowledge of asbestos usage at this site. This seeming unwillingness creates an obnoxious obligation on the part of the community to routinely challenge the PRP to be more candid. In reviewing matters, this is the second time that the general public has had to question the PRP on the basis of information accessible to the general public regarding asbestos usage at the site. Short of a court order, could the DEP explain to the public how it can achieve a higher and more acceptable level of candor from the PRP. In a communication dated March 30, 1998, W.R. Grace stated:

"With respect to the asbestos usage question, Grace has fully dealt with this issue in its response to Commissioner Struhs, dated January 13, 1998, which has been widely disseminated. Your assertion that Grace made misleading representations in that letter are without basis and the insinuation that any part of the site history was intentionally mischaracterized is completely unwarranted and at odds with the candid, cooperative and responsible way in which Grace has addressed questions about the Alewife site." (See Attachment # 5).

Any asbestos usage at this site should have been described when Grace filed its original environmental assessment in 1987. Either readily accessible information was not presented to the Licensed Site Professional, or the Licensed Site Professional did not pursue information rigorously, or the LSP has failed in his duty to describe site usage accurately and honestly. I would remind the Department, that the information, which led Grace to institute a sampling plan, was readily accessible public record and common knowledge amongst older residents of the area. Grace's contention that site history characterization has been "candid, cooperative and responsible" as a result of their efforts ignores the extent to which the community has had to add, amend and correct.

In the March 30, 1998 letter, when asked if there had been any chemical spills at the site since 1984, Grace claimed that "no spills or releases of chemicals which would be reportable under the Massachusetts Contingency Plan during that time period" have occurred at the site. The original question asked in a previous communication did not limit itself to MCP reporting requirements. However, it should be pointed out that hexane spills some of unknown quantity, and some clearly in excess of 10 pounds (MCP reportable limit) were reported to US EPA (ERNS Report #'s 426639, 426335). Volumes of hexane contaminated waste disposed of during three consecutive two-year periods exceeded ten and twenty tons (EPA ID # MAD001409150 -25 tons, 14.3 tons, 11.78 tons). Given the history of the DEP's experience with hexane spills at other Grace facilities, it is reasonable to expect a "candid, cooperative, and responsible" description of this process that goes beyond the nondescript categorization as a 'pilot' operation. Additionally, MADEP file information reveals that a #2 virgin fuel oil spill in excess of 1000 gallons occurred at the 62 Whittemore Avenue site in 1993 (N93 - 0958). Since there would appear to be more than simple gray areas with respect to this information, it would be helpful if Grace could clarify these matters in a "candid, cooperative, and responsible" manner. This might be accomplished with a formal communication followed up by a more informal opportunity to ask questions. Given the community's limited resources, direct DEP oversight in this matter would be beneficial.

If there is any way that this neighborhood can be helpful in this matter, please advise us accordingly.


Joseph I. Joseph
20 Columbus Ave.
Cambridge, MA
   cc: Cambridge City Council
John DeVillars, USEPA
Karen Stromberg, DEP Northeast Regional Office
Patricia Donahue, DEP Northeast Regional Office
State Senator Warren Tolman
State Representative Alice Wolf
State Senator Robert Havern
U.S. Senator Edward M. Kennedy
U.S. Senator John Kerry
Attorney General Scott Harshbarger
Allan R. Fierce

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