SALEM — The former owners of the old Salem Oil and Grease property “recklessly” cut corners that likely led to the release of asbestos during demolition on the site in 2016, and again later on as they were under orders to remove the hazardous material, the attorney general’s office alleges in a lawsuit filed this week.
The suit, filed against MRM Project Management, its principals, Robert and Michael Hubbard, and an abatement contractor, American Environmental Demolition, violated numerous state laws and regulations, including knocking down multiple buildings containing asbestos, leaving the contaminated debris on the site uncovered, and then eventually carting it away in cardboard containers on open trucks, the lawsuit, filed Wednesday in Suffolk Superior Court, alleges.
The 6.7 acre parcel, located at 60-64 Grove St. and 3 Harmony Grove Road, is the site of a planned 129-unit apartment complex.
It’s one of several projects that are being developed or have already gone up in an area of the city once known as “Blubber Hollow,” the location of tanneries and industrial buildings in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Salem Oil and Grease had been first identified as a site of potential contamination in the 1980s and had been vacant since 2002. MRM purchased it in 2006.
There were seven buildings, one with a smokestack, as well as bridges across the North River and underground tanks at the time.
Four buildings — identified as barrel storage, Building 59, the sulfonation building and a wastewater pre-treatment building, and part of a fifth building, the finishing building, were demolished sometime prior to August, 2016, when the Department of Environmental Protection stepped in.
Two of the buildings were never checked for asbestos before they were demolished, according to the suit, and the company failed to follow a plan it had submitted for the ones that were known to be contaminated.
The two bridges were also demolished without proper notice to the DEP, the suit alleges.
The suit alleges that the demolitions were done without adequate surveys of the buildings for the presence of asbestos, which was subsequently found in debris piles.
The suit says that MRM failed to ensure that the debris was handled properly as it was removed, and that once in the debris piles, no steps were taken to wet it or seal it.
When it was removed from the site, the suit alleges, it was placed in cardboard barrels, which were then loaded into open trash hauling containers. No air monitoring was conducted, the suit alleges.
Additionally the suit says that some debris from the site was used to construct access ramps and pathways without obtaining a solid waste permit.
“These defendants recklessly cut corners while redeveloping this site, ignored our important air pollution and asbestos laws, and put the health and safety of their workers and the public at risk,” Attorney General Maura Healey said in a press release announcing the lawsuit on Thursday. “We will hold accountable those who fail to take the necessary precautions to protect the public from this dangerous carcinogen.”
The site was purchased for $2.9 million in 2018 by Rita and Louie Roberto of the 116 Bennington St. Realty Trust, according to public records.
The suit is seeking fines of up to $50,000 per violation per day under state laws including the Clean Air Act, the Oil and Hazardous Material Release Prevention and Response Act, the Solid Waste Disposal Act, and accompanying regulations.
Beverly attorney Marshall Handly, who has been representing MRM, said he had not yet seen the complaint. “I have nothing to say about it,” he said.
Asked if he was aware of the possibility of litigation he said he had spoken with the attorney general’s office. “We’ve asked for some specificity as to the violations they’re claiming,” Handly said. “The place was completely cleaned by MRM under the direction of the DEP.”
Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @SNJulieManganis