WORCESTER — Neighbors near Larch and Piedmont streets have been complaining about toxic fumes emitted by a local auto body shop when painting car bodies for more than three years.
A group of people, including Rep. Mary Keefe, D-Worcester, community groups and residents, gathered at Larch and Piedmont streets early Thursday evening to continue fighting for DAMD Auto Body on Piedmont Street to relocate to a nonresidential area.
“Nothing personal, just hope they could move somewhere else and continue to thrive,” said Patricia Kirkpatrick of Mothers Out Front, a climate advocacy group.
Linda Pacuku, a lifelong ci resident, who lives across the street from DAMD, said the fumes have not only been staying on people’s clothes but also affecting their health.
“I know my husband has been coughing more, and I think I’m not as bad but I think that could be a result,” Pacuku said. “They should be moved somewhere else.”
Keefe said she wants to continue putting pressure on the city to do the right things by this neighborhood and end the hazardous emissions from DAMD Auto Body.
“We’re standing in solidarity with the neighbors here that have suffered a long time with the growing industry of auto body repair and the toxic fumes from this particular shop,” she said.
Jo Massarelli, who lives on Oxford Street, represented the residents whose health have been seriously affected by relating several requests from neighbors.
The requests include that residents are calling on the city to work with DAMD on its relocation process.
“Residents are demanding that DAMD get out of the present location in the Piedmont neighborhood and be relocated to an industrial area, or at least not a place where people live,” Massarelli said in a statement.
The residents are calling on the city’s Inspectional Services as well as the Worcester Fire Department to enforce the ordinances and monitor the number of vehicles that DAMD stores on the adjacent lot at 101 Piedmont St., since no more than 10 cars are allowed.
The residents are also seeking assistance from the state Department of Environmental Protection to assist in resolving the injustice, health issues and public nuisance the neighborhood has had to bear.
Kirkpatrick spoke up for Jenny Quinones, who lives behind DAMD Auto Body, that the fumes came directly to their home area and to other neighbors living nearby.
“I’m a mother of three, (and) when I heard Jenny talk about the fact her kids and have been through the past four years, and through the pandemic, trapped inside at home unable to play even at their own backyard because the air is that toxic, it just made my blood boil, so that’s why I’m here to help speak up for her and this issue,” Kirkpatrick said.
Over the past year, DAMD has been in contempt multiple times for not installing the new air filtration system.
The latest deadline identified by the city and upheld in court was Aug. 6. However, DAMD Auto Body did not meet the deadline.
According to the city’s Inspectional Services, DAMD applied for a permit to install the air filtration system and the tall stack Aug. 5, which was the day before the deadline for installation.
DAMD now has until Sept. 1 to complete the work. If it has not completed installation of the system by then, the company will be in contempt again; if it has installed the system and it is approved, then the case would be dismissed.
Even so, residents still have no faith DAMD will meet another deadline.
Keefe and the residents have been calling on City Manager Edward M. Augustus, Jr., to make the issue a priority of his office.
“Actually you could have an auto repair shop here, but you can’t have an auto body shop because of the paint,” Keefe said.
Keefe, community advocacy groups and residents will keep demonstrating every Thursday to remind DAMD and neighbors that they are not going away and will continue to fight for changes.