Friday, June 14, 2024

For months, residents of East Cambridge have questioned the environmental safety of the former Edward J. Sullivan Courthouse, and with good reason. The building is known to be contaminated with asbestos and is supposed to be sealed, but residents have witnessed flooding, leaks and wide-open gaps that many felt were likely paths for contaminants to spread into our residential neighborhood. In response to months of requests for testing and help, the state’s Division of Capital and Asset Management and Maintenance offered only unsupported assertions that everything was fine.

Those assertions have been proven false. Last week, a resident walked onto the site and took samples of disturbed, dusty materials he found in an unsealed room just yards from residences. A lab test confirmed those materials contained dangerous amounts of asbestos. This discovery identified that the community–and especially the onsite security guards put in place by the commonwealth–have been exposed to ongoing potential cancer risks for months, or possibly years.

This disturbing evidence ran counter to the explicit claims of DCAMM delivered by state Rep. Mike Connolly. Less than a month ago, the message was that “The former Edward J. Sullivan Courthouse does not pose a threat to public health and does not pose a risk to the environment.” No evidence was presented to support these claims. Instead, DCAMM asked East Cambridge residents to trust it over evidence they’d documented and reported for months and years.

The state Department of Environmental Protection’s response to the resident-conducted positive asbestos test completely contradicted DCAMM’s claims. After learning about the test, a MassDEP representative said, “I cannot express the urgency of this.” Crews were dispatched immediately and worked on a Friday night and through the Labor Day holiday weekend to seal the opening where the asbestos sample was taken, along with one or two other gaps identified by residents to secure the site and prevent additional environmental hazards.

And while one or two major gaps appear to have been sealed, we residents feel that the state is still not doing enough. The building is extremely degraded, and residents continue to point out dozens of other cracked doors, missing windows and areas where water leaks have streaked suspicious gray materials on the outside of the building, material that looks like the degraded building materials that were confirmed to contain asbestos.

Unfortunately, all resident concerns are being relayed to authorities through Connolly, who on Sunday responded with the same lack of urgency as he did a month ago. Provided with photos and reports from residents, Connolly again chose to side with state agencies over the people he’s supposed to represent and asked us to accept more baseless assertions that the building is now safe. Connolly should be insisting on evidence. The neighborhood is insisting on evidence. And now the neighborhood must insist on better representation.

Continuing to ask us to trust state agencies and our state representative who has become their mouthpiece is not going to cut it anymore. As they say: Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me. The residents of Cambridge deserve a source of information they can trust.

Unfortunately, this voice can no longer be Connolly. In addition to his previous failure to push back on state officials, he also has a political motivation to insist the courthouse is safe: For the past nine months, he has led a campaign to push for a plan that would delay cleaning up the asbestos. He’s politically invested in obstructing the current redevelopment plan.

The safety of our neighborhood can’t be hijacked to further one person’s political ambitions.

Connolly should step back from his involvement in the safety issues at the courthouse. The state should make available a spokesperson who is not an elected official to act as a point person on these issues and liaise with city officials. With the community potentially at risk, we cannot continue to play a game of telephone in which the state communicates to the public only through a politically motivated third party who can’t be trusted.

Connolly failed to appropriately represent the people of East Cambridge in this issue. While the community demanded action, he presented the views of a state agency that turned out to be misleading the public. Allowing him to continue to be the sole voice to the public on this issue puts our neighborhood at further risk.

Munroe Court Condominium Trust, for the owners of 30-38 Spring St.; Lee Pedro; Joe Aiello; Lois Flaherty; Olga Slavin; Anya Slavin; Fran Cronin; Geraldine Quinzio; Loren Crowe; Doug Castoldi; Patrick W. Barrett III; Roberta, Tatsuya, Yuri and Toru Goto; Jay Wasserman; Dan Eisner; Mary Ellen Doran; Ladan Khamsi; Ali Malihi; Mark Rogers; George N.J. Sommer III; Greg Zaff and Sonja Cantu; Lata Ramanathan; and Mike Tuyo, Cambridge residents