“I Can’t Breathe”: Millis concrete plant cited for alleged violations after neighbors complain about dust

MILLIS – Heidi Waller lives in the shadow of Tresca Brothers Concrete, Sand, and Gravel plant in Millis. “Every time the wind blows this way, I’m being buried,” Waller said.

On windy nights, a camera mounted on the outside of her home shows particles smacking the lens. “I can’t breathe, it’s in my eyes. It’s in my house,” she said.

She believes dust blows over from piles stored on Tresca’s nearby property, an allegation WBZ’s I-Team heard over and over again on Meadow Cartway, a residential street that runs alongside the plant. “All over my car,” said Gayle Parris, walking through her driveway. “If it’s really windy, you actually you can see the swirl,” said Bonnie Pride, who lives next door.

Tresca Brothers Concrete, Sand, and Gravel plant in Millis

CBS Boston

Another neighbor, Rusty Cushman, wiped the sand off his car in April. “This was all from yesterday,” he said. He uses a leaf blower to clear it off his property. “It looked like there was a dust storm the first time I noticed it,” he said. “It looked like smoke from the wildfires.”

Massachusetts State Inspectors said they found similar problems when they visited in May. Tresca received a notice of non-compliance from the Department of Environmental Protection Wednesday, June 1. It says an inspector saw “…emissions…blowing from the facility…” The notice says he felt the dust “striking him in the face and eyes.” 

Neighbors wonder if it’s dangerous to breathe, because the federal government has strict regulations on workers’ exposure to certain ingredients in concrete. One of them is crystalline silica.  With the help of Air Safety Expert John Martin, we collected air samples over six hours one day. One of them was from Heidi Waller’s backyard, another from the Boston Common. 

Tresca concrete
Tresca Brothers Concrete, Sand, and Gravel plant in Millis

CBS Boston

“There could be some concern,” said Martin. The I-Team sent the samples to internationally accredited lab SGS Galson. The results: 55 micrograms per cubic meter of crystalline silica in Millis, which Martin says could potentially be a dangerous level. The level was zero on Boston Common.  How concerning is that? “It could be very concerning if there’s a population that is particularly susceptible,” said Martin. “So, if it’s very young or very old.”

Experts say the real danger is when particles are small enough to lodge deep into a person’s lungs, which would require follow-up tests to find out. While the company did not offer anyone to answer our questions in-person, an attorney sent a written response. “…there are many potential sources for crystalline silica in the ambient area such as construction…landscaping…and…unpaved roads like those that service the neighborhood in question…”

Neighbors say the problem became worse when a lot of tree growth around the edge of Tresca’s property that used to act as a buffer, came down. Neighbors say the company cut the trees, but Tresca says it was caused by a tornado.

The company’s attorney says it takes steps to curb potential dust.  “…a water truck for dust suppression, truck washing procedures…street sweepers, sprinklers, and…calcium around the property…” Neighbors say it’s not working. “My life is completely governed by which way the wind is blowing,” said Waller.

Now Massachusetts inspectors agree.

The company is not facing any fines at this point, but state inspectors plan to return in 30 days to make sure the company is in compliance.

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