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Asbestos Found at Fitchburg’s Coolidge Park

August 1, 2018

On Tuesday, a few portions of the plastic snow fencing that was put up last fall, months before the asbestos was found, had fallen. Commissioner of Public Works Lenny Laakso said the fencing is replaced and repaired as needed. SENTINEL & ENTERPRISE / AMANDA BURKE Sentinel and Enterprise staff photos can be ordered by visiting our SmugMug site.

By Amanda Burke

aburke@sentinel andenterprise.com

FITCHBURG -- A mitigation plan is being developed after 10 fragments of asbestos siding were found earlier this summer on a tract of field at Coolidge Park, officials said Tuesday.

Commissioner of Public Works Lenny Laakso said the 10 pieces of asbestos siding were each about 1.5 by 1.5 inches. A youth soccer coach discovered the fragments several weeks ago, he said.

It was confirmed the material contained asbestos after the coach sent the material away for testing, according to Laakso, adding that a visual inspection of the material confirmed that finding.

The fragments were found on grassy land behind the baseball diamonds at Coolidge Park. Laakso said a specialist collected the fragments, which together fit in the palm of his hand.

The siding fragments were found inside a section of recreational land that has been fenced in since last fall. Last year, the city put up orange plastic snow fencing around that section to sow new grass, according to Laakso. On Tuesday, the still fenced-in area appeared to be about the size of a football field.

A procedure known as hydroseeding was performed there in the fall, but the fence remained up when the grass failed to grow, likely because it rained shortly after the treatment, said Laakso.

Laasko said he does not know how the asbestos got there.

“There’s no way of knowing where the pieces came from,” he said.

A horse race track was located at what is now Coolidge Park decades ago, said Laakso, adding that the area in question was not home to an industrial site.

Asbestos siding was a common building material that is still be found on the exterior of some houses, he said.

Laasko said the siding may have been disbursed when the field was leveled. The fragments did not come from the top soil, which is periodically screened for debris, he said.

Asbestos can cause health problems when the fibrous material is inhaled. The fibers go airborne when the asbestos material is broken or otherwise disturbed.

“You’d have to be exposed to it for a long time for it to be an issue,” Laakso said.

City Solicitor Vincent Pusateri said the type of asbestos found on the field was not “friable.” “Friable” asbestos can be easily crumbled by hand, whereas materials like siding are more durable.

The city brought on an industrial hygienist and site professional to develop a mitigation plan, according to Pusateri.

That plan has been in the works for three weeks, said Laakso, adding that it has taken longer than expected to complete and that he hoped to receive the plan by Tuesday.

From there, the city will send the mitigation plan to the state Department of Environmental Protection for approval, according to Laakso.

The hygienist removed 10 siding fragments from the field and placed them in plastic bags, he said. The hygienist believes removing the siding fragments may be sufficient in terms of cleanup, according to Laakso.

Laakso said he not aware of any fragments being found outside the fenced-in area. He advised that park visitors to heed signs posted nearby and remain outside the fence.

“It’s not a very alarming situation, but just to be on the safe side and to keep people away from the asbestos tiling, you should stay away from the fenced area,” he said.

Pusateri said there have been reports that a portion of the plastic fence had been “brought down,” but signs warning park visitors to keep away remained posted along the exterior.

Recreation Director Nathan LaRose said the snow fencing “goes around a wide area, much wider than the area where the asbestos was found.”

LaRose said children in the Summer Playground Program and participants in a parent-led youth soccer program that practices at Coolidge Park have been instructed not to go inside.

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