Too late to fire DPW head since he's already gone, but not too late to sue the whole lot of them for their obvious negligence and malfeasance!
Clay and Van Campen should be fired immediately for the many harms they've inflicted, not only on the Brazil Street residents so egregiously hurt, but for the entire city they've hurt with their incompetence and contempt for all that is decent.
Here, the science confirms what was obvious from the start (thanks to Patch/Carraggi and to Aldermen MacMaster, Medeiros, Forbes and Zwirko, sort of):
People lived in one of the homes for months after the health director deemed it habitable over residents' objections.
By Mike Carraggi, Patch Staff
MELROSE, MA — The intestinal bacteria E. coli was recently found in two of the Brazil Street homes filled with raw sewage in June's backup, according to the results of an independent inspection of the homes obtained by Patch. The two homes had been cleared months earlier by the city health director and one has been occupied since.
The homes were among four damaged June 20 when an outdated sewer pipe clogged with a massive "fatberg" — a disgusting buildup of fats and oils and other materials — that created a backup that flooded the homes with sewage and forced residents out. Almost immediately, there were questions about the city's emergency management response that exposed long-simmering cracks among city leaders.
Three of the homes have been tested; two tested positive for E. coli, one came back negative for the bacteria and a fourth home was scheduled to be tested next week.
Patch obtained the test results for one of the homes that tested positive for E. coli from a resident who asked not to be identified. Patch confirmed the results of the other two homes from Brazil Street sources with knowledge of the results. The sources asked the specific homes not be identified.
The two homes that tested positive for E. coli had been cleared by Health Director Ruth Clay in what residents said at the time was a rushed, incomplete inspection. Clay reversed her decision on one of the homes after sewage was found in the heating and cooling system under the living room. As of Thursday, one of the four homes affected has been deemed livable. Another only needs a working toilet.
Mayor Gail Infurna defended Clay and her inspections, though the administration did say the building inspector would accompany her on future inspections.
"I have not seen the results of the environmental tests of any of the 3 homes," Infurna told Patch in a text message Thursday. "Without having seen these results, I can't offer a comment at this time."
The homes were inspected by Woburn-based TRC Companies over the last couple weeks. Each residence was tested in eight spots, such as the bathroom and laundry room. In at least one of the homes, six testing spots showed positive readings for coliform and four spots tested positive for E. coli.
The residents were told that coliform is common and not necessarily related to the backup, but that E. coli "definitely" was.
The independent inspections and reports were paid for by community fundraising after Infurna denied three requests for independent inspections, including one in the form of a resolution put forth by the Board of Aldermen.
"What I find troubling is that the risk of E. coli exposure could have been greatly reduced or eliminated altogether had the health director and the administration recognized the importance of an environmental inspection from day one," Ward 5 Alderman Shawn MacMaster told Patch. "But what I find appalling is that, even after a clear and convincing case had been made for an independent inspection, the concerns of the victims were still not taken seriously, my requests for one were continually denied, and the health inspector was firmly defended by the mayor and never held accountable for her patent inaction."
Clay said she did everything she was supposed to do in making sure the homes were habitable by state standards.
The residents said Clay took less than a minute inspecting each of the homes, peeking her head in a couple rooms and never leaving the living room.
"It's quite disturbing that the director of board of health still has her job," Silvana Ortiz, who may never return to the home she was forced from shortly after her wedding, told Patch in a text message. "She put these people in harm's way by not doing her job responsibly. The mayor & her team stood by Ruth and her recommendation to deem these homes fit for occupancy."
Infurna's administration said inspections would not be fruitful since the state lacks scientific standards for the sort of air quality and bacteria tests that were called for. The Department of Public Health confirmed that to Patch, but local medical professionals said that even if there is no standard, it doesn't mean there is nothing measurable. For instance, E. coli could still be detectable.
One affected resident told Patch this all could have been avoided if the city had agreed to provide the inspections when asked.
"I just feel like it was a small price to pay for us to feel safe and happy," the resident said.
Replacement of the walls and floors of that resident's home is almost finished, which could suffocate the E. coli bacteria. The alternative would be to tear everything up again to permit another cleaning, but with so much time having passed since the backup and the threat of the bacteria diminishing, that outcome isn't likely.
The city's response to the backup has been one of the top stories in a year that also saw an override and will soon see the election of a new mayor. The administration was slow to respond to the crisis when it first happened; Infurna later revealed she had been admitted to the hospital that morning and remained there over the weekend.
City solicitor Robert Van Campen later acknowledged "glitches" in the system, and Infurna has said things would have been handled differently given what they now know.
The city offered to pay for a hotel for those affected. Residents of two of the homes took the city up on that; one family was forced to leave the hotel after Clay cleared their home a couple weeks later — despite their objections that it wasn't suitable to live in — while Ortiz and her husband's stay was extended until the end of July, though their home had still not been cleared.
Months of aldermanic frustration directed at Infurna's administration boiled over after what some characterized as poor communication and a lack of transparency and awareness. Aldermen — including MacMaster, who lives on Brazil Street — weren't made aware of the situation until hours after it happened.
"This should be a lesson for the next administration that policies and procedures for handling sewer backups are greatly needed, and that backups of a certain level, and that meet a particular criteria, should adhere to best practices and involve an environmental inspection," MacMaster said. "I hope to have the opportunity to work with the next Mayor to apply what we have learned from this experience to better protect residents in the future."
Infurna and her minions Scenna, Clay, VanCampen and Lavender Bird will all be sued.