Stratford, CT-Once a source of civic pride and generous contributions to the community, the now defunct auto brake pad and clutch manufacturing firms, Raybestos-Manhattan, Inc. and its successor, Raymark Industries, are now best known for a dangerous legacy of asbestos contaminated soil the companies left in the wake of their operations . For over 70 years, the two manufacturers employed thousands of individuals in the Stratford area, but when the dire health risks associated with asbestos exposure became widely known-with multi-million dollar employee lawsuits resulting-Raymark Industries closed its doors in 1989.
During the heyday of asbestos-related manufacturing in Stratford, Raybestos-Manhattan and Raymark Industries both donated thousands of cubic yards of soil to the town of Stratford for use as fill for the construction of several town parks, a soccer field, and a world-class softball field-unfortunately, all of the earthen materials were heavily contaminated with asbestos. Unaware of the hazardous material beneath their feet, area residents took great pride in the ball field where Stratford’s championship women’s softball team played.
So great was the community pride in the auto brake and clutch manufacturer, the softball team was known as the “Raybestos Brakettes”, a team that had a number of Olympic medal winners on board-needless to say, the Stratford women no longer reference cancer-causing asbestos in their team name.
The Feds Intervene, But Don’t Solve the Problem
Shortly after Raymark Industries closed its doors, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) placed a cover of plastic, clean soil, and asphalt-based paving over the entire 34-acre Raymark manufacturing site. The area was redeveloped and now hosts a bustling Wal-Mart-based shopping center. Unfortunately, the softball field didn’t fare as well. In 1992, the EPA placed a deep layer of clean fill over the 14 acre ball field before declaring it strictly off-limits to the general public-the EPA’s order was reinforced through the construction of a chain link fence that encircles the entire area. Today, this no man’s land is choked with weeds and other vegetation that has overgrown all that was once there.
Today, Stratford continues to host a total of 24 separate and individual asbestos contaminated sites. Recently, the EPA proposed excavating the soil from all of these sites and depositing it atop the old softball field site where it would be buried beneath a layer of non-contaminated earthen materials. All told, over 5,000 truckloads of contaminated soil would be excavated and moved for an approximate total cost of $21 million. The cost of this asbestos cleanup would be paid for out of funds the EPA collected from lawsuits against Raymark, as well as other sources, but, according to some residents whose homes are near the old sports field, money isn’t the issue.
Not in My Back Yard
“Just because it’s contaminated doesn’t mean we have to put more contamination on top of it and expose people passing through to airborne asbestos,” says Beth Smith, a Stratford resident whose home is directly adjacent to the former ball field site. “Would the town of Westport stand for that?” Ms. Smith’s question is echoed by those who are against the plan to leave the contaminated soils in Stratford forever.
Thousands of area residents want to see all of the asbestos contaminated fill transported to an asbestos decontamination plant in Buffalo, New York, for an estimated cost of $60 million. To date, town organizers have collected 4,000 signatures on a petition designed to block the EPA’s original proposal; currently, Stratford area residents continue to pressure the EPA to do more than move asbestosis contaminated soil from one location in town to another.