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Mass. AG resolves asbestos allegations against Emerson College

By Bryan Cohen | Jul 10, 2012


BOSTON (Legal Newsline) - Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley announced a consent judgment on Friday against Suffolk Construction Company Inc. and Emerson College resolving allegations of violations of the state's air pollution and asbestos regulations.

Under the terms of the judgment, Suffolk and Emerson will each pay $250,000 in civil penalties to the state.

Coakley filed the lawsuit along with the consent judgment on Friday, alleging that Suffolk and Emerson violated the state's air pollution prevention statute and asbestos regulations during the 2007-08 renovation of Emerson's Colonial Building.

Emerson purchased the 13-story Colonial Building in Boston in 2006 and used it for leased offices and student rehearsal space. In 2007, Emerson hired Suffolk to renovate the building and convert it into a student dormitory for approximately $42 million. Suffolk hired an engineering firm to determine if the building contained asbestos. The firm retained an asbestos consultant to perform the inspection.

The consultant was allegedly unable to gain access to all parts of the building for testing and recommended further destructive testing for asbestos when full access could be obtained. Suffolk and Emerson allegedly received the report but failed to conduct further testing prior to demolition and renovation of the building.

The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection first inspected the building site after most of the demolition and removal was complete, because proper and timely demolition and asbestos notices were allegedly not provided to the department. MassDEP found materials that contained asbestos throughout the building. A brand of lightweight wall block installation called Mac-ite, which contained asbestos and was heavily damaged through the renovation process, was discovered. The Mac-ite was allegedly missed during the first asbestos assessment and was not identified as a material that contained asbestos.

Because the demolition allegedly did not have proper asbestos containment measures put in place, the contaminated demolition materials removed from the building may have exposed the public. The potentially contaminated demolition materials should have been sent to a licensed asbestos landfill, but 80 percent of the material may have been sent to recycling facilities and exposed workers in the process.

MassDEP required a halt on demolition and renovation activities at the building until a proper survey could be conducted and an asbestos decontamination plan could be approved. The abatement of asbestos was then conducted to the satisfaction of MassDEP to protect the health of the public.

Under the terms of the judgment, Emerson must prepare and put into effect a maintenance and operations plan for the building to avoid future releases of asbestos if the building is renovated or repaired.

Suffolk and Emerson denied any wrongdoing in agreeing to the settlement.

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