Neighbors of a 175-year-old Easton foundry being dismantled two weeks ago were relieved when the state Department of Environmental Protection stepped in and stopped work crews after thick black soot blanketed cars, homes, and yards.
It turned out neither the property owner nor the demolition company had secured required demolition permits from the state.
The shutdown has bought the neighborhood a temporary reprieve, but area residents and business owners say they remain wary because once the permits are issued, expected in the next few days, demolition of the former Belcher Malleable Iron Co. will resume.
“I’m still nervous,” said Maria Botelho, a foundry neighbor since 1991. “I want to believe that this time it will be done right, but I have my doubts.”
The foundry operated from 1837 until 2007 when it was shut down by Advanced Metals Group, a Pennsylvania company that had purchased it four years earlier.
‘When they tore down the hopper, there was a black cloud. I wondered how the town could even allow this.’
Botelho said she used to refer to it as “Nightmare on Foundry Street” when it was operating. While she was happy to see it close, she said she grew concerned when it became a graffiti-covered eyesore and a magnet for metal scavengers.
On July 10, Botelho had no inkling the foundry’s dismantling would begin.
“I went outside and I couldn’t believe my eyes,” she said. “When they tore down the hopper, there was a black cloud. I wondered how the town could even allow this.”
Neither Advanced Metals Group nor the demolition company returned calls for this story.
Alan Levin, who owns nearby Furnace Brook Motors, said he was angered by the lack of warning from town officials.
“Nobody even notified us,” Levin said. “Stuff that had been lying dormant there for the last 200 years went up into the air, in huge clouds of dust and soot,” Levin said. “It stopped traffic on Route 106. You couldn’t see a foot in front of you.”
Both Botelho and Levin said they called town officials.
“I said if I was removing lead or asbestos from my house, I wouldn’t be allowed to just open the windows and let it blow out,” Levin said. “I didn’t get anywhere, so I called [the Department of Environmental Protection], who came and shut them down.”
Mark Taylor, Easton’s public health agent, said he told the demolition crew to control the dust after he received an initial complaint.
“Then, when I got the call from Furnace Motors and a landlord of a building concerned for his tenant,” he said, “I shut down the major demolition but allowed them to continue cleaning up the site.”
State environmental officials arrived on July 13, and they ordered all work stopped.
According to DEP spokesman Edmund Coletta, the property owner had informed the state of asbestos work on the site, but said nothing about demolition, which requires a state permit.
State officials are now reviewing the demolition plan, which is being done by Swampscott-based Total Group. The scope will include some asbestos removal and disposal, cleanup of a small fuel spill, and disposal of two oil drums.
Coletta said his agency planned to meet last week with the demolition company and the property owner.
“If we get satisfactory answers, we’ll allow them to move forward,” he said.
Generally there is a 10-day waiting period following an application. Coletta said that could be waived since the half-dismantled building represents a public safety issue.
Belcher Malleable Iron Co. is part of Easton’s industrial past, joining an already-flourishing iron furnace business in south Easton when it opened in 1837. During its 175-year history, main buildings were destroyed twice by fire and rebuilt. The foundry is believed to be one of the longest-running iron furnaces in the country to operate on its original site.
Even with those historical connections, no one is sad to see it go.
“A bit of the town’s history will be gone, but I don’t think anyone had a great love for the structure,” Town Administrator David Colton said. “It was an eyesore.”
Colton said officials hoped the property would be redeveloped since it is in a prime location on Route 106.
“When we heard it was going to be demolished, we were excited because we thought it was sold,” he said. “Now I think they were reacting to the scavenging that was going on there.”
Botelho, meanwhile, is still stinging from her experience earlier this month, saying her daughter’s asthma’s condition became so aggravated from demolition dust that she had to be brought to the hospital on a Sunday.
“My daughter had to take time off from work,” she said.
The Total Group has tried to placate neighbors. Botelho said the company power-washed her house, paid to have her cars cleaned, and covered her daughter’s prescription medication.
Levin said the company also power-washed his building and pledged to reimburse him for the cost of cleaning all the cars on his lot.
But the neighbors remained skeptical that conditions will improve when demolition resumes.