Attorney General Requests Court Order to Block Salvage Operation, Cites Asbestos Fears

In a request for a court order to block the salvage operation of Merrimac Paper Co., Attorney General Martha Coakley alleges that the owner removed machinery, equipment, and metals from the complex since 2010, releasing dangerous airborne asbestos in the process.  The owner, David Padellaro, purchased the complex and its accompanying city liens for $1 at a bankruptcy auction in 2010, and has since had several orders from the state to cease salvaging.

The Asbestos Fear

While Padallero is trying to salvage potentially valuable metals, pumps, transformers, pipes and turbines from the 134-year-old facility, Coakley is seeking to ensure that the operation complies with regulations enacted to ensure the containment of asbestos and numerous other toxins.  Coakley reasons that “[t]he site has put workers and the public at risk” and that she is “pleased that this order will help clean up the property in an environmentally safe way and allow it to be restored by the city for economic development.”  The complex occupies a tract on the Merrimack River that is distinguished for its popularity with the homeless, who are thought to be the cause of an earlier fire.  An inspection of the site in 2012 revealed high levels of asbestos in 13 out of the 28 buildings in the mill.  Considering that nine of the buildings were ineligible for a full inspection due to dangerous near-collapsing conditions, even more buildings could present asbestos dangers.

According to commissioner of the State Department of Environmental Protection, Kenneth Kimmell, Padellaro has willfully ignored MassDEP’s enforcement actions and exposed workers and potentially others to a public safety hazard and an unnecessary environmental risk.”  Judge Bonnie MacLeod of the Suffolk Superior Court previously issued a temporary restraining order to halt the salvage operation until February 24.  At that time, she will hear another request from Coakley that would extend the delay until a trial claims that Padellaro’s salvaging operation “put workers and the public at risk” can be evaluated.

In addition to ceasing salvaging operations Coakley is requesting an order compelling Padellaro to secure permits to demolish contaminated buildings in addition to freezing all of his assets.  Such assets include not only the mill, but any other real estate owned by Padellaro, his bank accounts, household and office furnishings, and equipment.  Coakley’s justification for the freeze is that the assets could provide a source to compensate the DEP for the $86,000 it has spent to monitor salvage operations and hire independent contractors to help with the identification of environmental contaminants.  On top of that, DEP has also assessed $26,000 in fines against Padellaro.

The entire ordeal is proving to be very costly for all parties involved.  City Building Commissioner Peter Blanchette estimates that the cost could reach $500,000 for just the four buildings initially destroyed in the fire, and even more would be required to ensure that the asbestos is safely removed from the other contaminated buildings in the same complex.

Massachusetts has regulations in place to protect the general public from asbestos exposure.  Asbestos exposure can lead to mesothelioma, a dangerous and often fatal condition involving the pleural linings of the lungs.

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