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[Letter, as published in the Cambridge Chronicle, July 4, 2001, on page 6.]
Clearing up a few points
The Chronicle’s recent editorial commentary entitled "Dig Safely, W.R. Grace "contained a number of factual errors regarding the Asbestos Protection Ordinance.
The editorial states that the ordinance in some cases requires "tenting and venting, "which the editorial incorrectly defines as "seal[ing] the entire work zone in an airtight tent." Although the ordinance does require that disturbance of asbestos contaminated soil take place within a temporary structure under some circumstances, the ordinance does not require that the structure be airtight, only that air within the structure be maintained at a slight vacuum and filtered to prevent release of asbestos dust.
The editorial states that "the ordinance requires tenting and venting whenever a work project will occur within 50 yards of residential homes." In fact, the ordinance requires tenting and venting only at the most contaminated sites, and the proximity threshold is 500 feet, not 50 yards.
The editorial states that the ordinance is inconsistent on the matter of tenting and venting. In fact, the ordinance is extremely specific and unambiguous. Tenting and venting is required when disturbing soils at industrial sites at which asbestos levels in soil of at least 1 percent have been measured and which meet specific criteria involving proximity to residences, quantity of soil to be disturbed, or quantity of asbestos at the site. Tenting and venting may or may not be required at sites that do not meet these narrow criteria, at the discretion of the health department.
Finally, the editorial states that "the ordinance also provides an out clause ... Work needed for utility upgrade may be considered exempt from the tenting and venting requirement." In fact, the ordinance exempts maintenance of underground utilities from the requirements of the ordinance, so that emergency repairs can be made without prior approval from the Health Department. New utility installations and utility upgrades, which have long lead times, are not exempted from the ordinance.
The Chronicle should be commended for the interest it has shown in this important matter. However, the editors should have familiarized themselves with the Asbestos Protection Ordinance more carefully before publishing their opinion.
Contact the Alewife Study Group, North Cambridge Massachusetts, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org