-By Seth Daniel
For the Journal
A whistleblower lawsuit against the RESCO trash incineration plant on the Rumney Marsh has apparently triggered an investigation by Attorney General Martha Coakley’s office, and one local group wants some information now.
The lawsuit has been ongoing since 2009, and Coakley’s office is believed to have been investigating since that time. The consensus among many near to the issue is that a decision on the allegations against RESCO will be released within the next couple of months.
A contentious meeting in Saugus over the weekend squared off RESCO officials with the town’s Board of Health – as well as a number of concerned residents and public officials from Lynn and Revere.
In that meeting, the allegations were addressed first off.
In addition, the Saugus River Watershed Council (SRWC) was at the meeting and demanding information from the Attorney General about the allegations.
Those allegations surfaced last week when a Boston Globe article broke the details of the allegations in the sealed whistleblower lawsuit. The state whistleblower statute protects employees who allege wrongdoing by their employers. The story only broke due to former employees from RESCO – who are part of the lawsuit – submitting to anonymous interviews with that newspaper.
Those former RESCO employees said they have alleged that RESCO knowingly and secretly allowed toxic chemicals to enter the environment. Some of those chemicals are listed as being mercury, lead and dioxin. One allegation even goes so far as to say that the company used hoses to secretly divert ash-filled wastewater into the Lynn sewer system.
It is also alleged that RESCO overcharged defrauded communities for the incineration of their garbage.
Jan Schlictmann, who became famous as an attorney fighting polluters in Woburn in the movie ‘A Civil Action’, represents those two whistleblower employees.
At Saturday’s meeting, RESCO officials resoundingly denied all the claims listed in the article, though they did apologize for not previously revealing the lawsuit. One of the problems with the allegations is that no one – including RESCO officials – really knows the contents of that lawsuit. That is because it is sealed until the Attorney General finishes her appraisal of the matter.
The Attorney Generals’ Office, as a matter of protocol, would not comment whatsoever.
“The only comment from our office at this time is it’s our office policy neither to confirm or deny investigations,” said Grant Woodman, a spokesman for the AG.
That said, most everyone agrees that there is some sort of inquiry and that public answers could come within one or two months.
That’s where SRWC comes in.
The organization, which oversees the Rumney Marsh area, called for the Attorney General to release all of the information in the suit on the grounds of public health. They also called for a completion of the investigation and swift action to resolve and, if necessary, remediate the matter.
“Keeping information about potential pollution violations at Wheelabrator confidential could pose significant public health risks,” wrote Joan LeBlanc of SRWC. “During the time of the ongoing investigation, students from Saugus public schools have used the landfill area as a place to practice golf. At the same time, students from area schools and colleges have participated in research and educational activities in and around the waste incineration plant. If the allegations are valid, then workers at the plant, youths practicing golf, students conducting research, and unknowing residents living in nearby neighborhoods of Saugus, Lynn and Revere may have all been exposed to pollutants such as dioxin and mercury that are linked to many types of cancer.”
SRWC piggybacked on that by presenting cancer statistics for the communities of Lynn, Revere and Saugus.
In those statistics, covering 2003-2007, Lynn has a statistically high rate of kidney/renal cancer in women, oral cancer in men and stomach cancer in both men and women.
“According to statistics compiled by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health Cancer Registry, cancer rates in the communities of Saugus, Lynn and Revere already exceed statewide averages for many types of cancer,” read LeBlanc’s letter.
Officials in Saugus have agreed with the SRWC, demanding that the AG’s office release to them a copy of the lawsuit.
Saugus officials also had RESCO agree to hire an independent expert to decode the quarterly reports that the company generates for the Town. Several other communities have also asked that any information coming from that independent expert also be forwarded to their own Boards of Health.
RESCO hasn’t had any significant violations levied against it by state regulators in many years. Also known as Wheelabrator, it is owned by Waste Management – the giant conglomerate trash company out of Texas.