Boston — As a Rust Belt state, Massachusetts has a profound legacy from more than two centuries of industrial pollution. During the one-term Romney administration, the Commonwealth’s toxic control program either stalled or made major strides in reverse, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
Perhaps the biggest change under Romney in this arena was privatizing toxic clean-ups. Unlike many other states where public agencies oversee hazardous waste removals, Massachusetts allows landowners to use private consultants, called Licensed Site Professionals, to supervise work and certify sites as clean. This shift came at a price:
- A state audit in 2005 found nearly three out of four of private clean-ups required follow-up work, such as retesting or additional soil removal, while nearly one in ten were so bad that the private clean-up plan had to be retracted in its entirety;
- The serious failure rates for private clean-ups almost doubled during the Romney years; and
- In the town of Berkley, another state audit found the private consultant report used to declare the site clean was not “scientifically valid and defensible.” Meanwhile, a PEER study showed residents living downstream from the old tannery in the town had 56% higher odds of dying from cancer than residents living upstream. PEER was unable to get the Romney Health Department to address this apparent cancer cluster.
“Under Romney, public health protection was outsourced to the lowest bidder,” stated New England PEER Director Kyla Bennett, a former lawyer and biologist with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, noting the derisive “pave and wave” nickname attached to many of the shoddy private cleanups. “Privatized toxic cleanups were often not done right the first time and left residents no assurance that their well water was safe to drink or that their basements were not collecting poisonous fumes.”
On the other hand, in public institutions, especially schools, the Romney approach was studied inattention. For example, many old school buildings are full of asbestos yet a state audit found that 90 percent of Massachusetts schools were not in compliance with federal asbestos standards during the ten-year period from 1998 to 2008. Occupants of these buildings are at risk for asbestosis, lung cancer, and malignant mesothelioma. Massachusetts Cancer Registry data show teachers and school custodians are reporting cases of malignant mesothelioma, a cancerous tumor in the lining of the lung linked to asbestos exposure.
“For many of the public health risks confronting our citizens daily, the Romney era was one of malign neglect,” Bennett added. “When it came to the many un-sexy tasks of governance where parties needed to be brought together to fix gritty problems, Mitt Romney was usually missing in action.”