AG Says Danvers Site is Toxic

The Massachusetts State Attorney General’s Office has sued the major trustee of a land trust over 11 acres of land alongside Route 128 in Danvers, saying the land has high levels of asbestos, arsenic and dioxins, and poses a considerable risk to public health.

The property is owned by Peabody lawyer Nicholas Decoulos via the Orchard Farm Trust. Decoulos, who has reportedly refused to clean up the site or erect fencing to keep people out, or to post warning signs to protect the public from the toxic chemicals within the site, has also refused access to state officials to do the fencing and posting on his behalf.

The site, formerly the Creese and Cook Tannery, is located at 25 Clinton Street, and has not operated in any industrial capacity since 1984. The land is bordered by the Crane River and a shopping plaza that houses BJ’s Wholesale Club and a video rental store, among others. There are also homes nearby, and along Route 128, but most of the southern edge is undeveloped wetlands.

The property, investigated in 1979 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) because of odors coming from the onsite landfill, was also investigated in 1985 by the Mass. Department of Environmental Quality, or DEQ, and in 1996 by Stone & Webster Environmental Technology & Services. Historical soil sampling in 1984, 1992 and 1995 showed at least eight contaminants in surface soils, as well as arsenic, the pesticide Methoxychlor, and 12 semi-volatile organic compounds in soil and sediments.

Creese and Cook discharged wastewater laden with acids, caustics, formaldehyde, glutaraldehyde, hydrogen peroxide, organic solvents, aluminum sulfate and chromium salts, as well as pesticides, into the Crane River until 1975, after which the tannery was connected to the municipal sewer system.

Formerly controlled by Riversedge Realty Trust, the property was acquired by Decoulos as Orchard Farm Trust for $1.3 million in 2003. Decoulos, a Revere resident, is reportedly the principal trustee and has considerable control over the land. Names of other trustees have not been publicly disclosed.

According to the lawsuit, filed Thursday, May 11, in Suffolk Superior Court (Boston), as well as a 2004 report in the Salem News, Decoulos demolished the former tannery building in 2004, planning to build condominiums or apartments.

The deconstruction reportedly caused the release of asbestos-containing materials from the tannery, which was built in 1934. This release violated federal and state Clean Air Acts. More than half the material from deconstruction remains spread across a 100 square-foot section of the property and has been left unprotected, to be disturbed and distributed by wind and rain, according to the complaint.

Asbestos is a fibrous mineral that, when breathed or swallowed, gets into mesothelial tissues in the lungs and abdomen and causes irritation, or lesions, that can lead to cancers, most notably mesothelioma, a fatal cancer that lies dormant for several decades before producing symptoms that lead to diagnosis. Unfortunately, once diagnosed, most victims are given about 18 months to live. Asbestos also causes asbestosis, a respiratory disease of such severity it is commonly associated with physical wasting.

Decoulos’ reluctance to protect the site via fencing and posting signs is unfortunate, in view of the fact that a number of people have already used the vacant property for what are reportedly recreational purposes. This has exposed an unknown number of individuals to a potential future of asbestosis and cancer – an exposure that could perhaps have been prevented with $100 in signage.

Officials have requested the court to order Decoulos to report trespassers, and want Decoulos fined up to $75,000 per day for violating environmental laws and refusing to allow state officials to protect the land on his behalf.

Decoulos has refused comment, and a hearing is scheduled for June 22.

Free Information Packet on Mesothelioma

If you would like to receive a FREE information packet on mesothelioma**, or if you have a comment or question, please complete the following:

**(Packet includes information on treatment, clinical trials, cancer links, how to access legal and financial resources, and frequently asked legal questions with answers provided by Cooper, Hart, Leggiero & Whitehead, PLLC). By filling out the above form you consent to being contacted by Cooper, Hart, Leggiero & Whitehead regarding potentially retaining legal services.