‘Ghost Factories’ In Mass. Remain Invisibly Toxic

The approximate site of Eastern Smelting & Refining Corp. in Boston.
The approximate site of Eastern Smelting & Refining Corp. in Boston. –SCREENSHOT

In a 14-month investigation, USA Today probed into the world of “ghost factories,’’ or factories that once released lead and other toxins into the air, and still leak contaminants. According to their report, “the factories, which melted lead in a process called smelting, closed long ago but poisonous lead particles can still be found in the soil nearby.’’

This soil is now the site of homes and the investigation alleges that many families are unaware their children are playing in toxins.

USA Today reports that though government regulators have know about this issue for about a decade, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has not done anything to fix the problem.


Since starting their investigation, regulators in Kentucky, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, and Wisconsin have all taken action.

Out of the more than 230 former factory sites they investigated, 11 were located in Massachusetts:

1. EASTERN SMELTING & REFINING CORP., 109 W. Brookline St., Boston, Mass., 02118

The EPA visited the site in 2002 and said no further investigation or cleanup was needed. There are houses here now with no accessible soil.

2. GENERAL METALS & SMELTING CO., 47 Topeka St., Boston, Mass., 02118

After the EPA found “a few cylinders with unknown contents’’ and the area was fenced off, a private engineering firm proposed a cleanup. Elevated lead levels were found and the site is still fenced until “cleanup options are evaluated by the state.’’

3. NATIONAL LEAD CO. (OF MASS.) / SALEM LEAD, 800 Albany St., Boston, Mass., 02119

This site, after finding high lead concentrations in 1989, has been cleaned for commercial use. Residential homes and fruit and vegetable gardens are still not allowed.

4. VULCAN SMELTING WORKS / HARCON CORP., 115 Fifth St., Chelsea, Mass., 02150

This was the site of two different smelting areas. The EPA visited in 2002 and said no cleanup was necessary, but the state nor the EPA could provide USA Today with records showing that any soil testing had been done.

5. BUTTER, HARRY, & CO., 151 Mount Vernon St., Dorchester, Mass., 02125


At the site of the JFK Presidential Library and Museum, “contaminated soil was excavated and removed for disposal as hazardous waste.’’

6. NICK, HERMAN & CO. INC., 140 Granite Ave., Dorchester, Mass., 02124

The state found this area to contain heavy metals, such as lead, PCBs, fuel oil and others. A cleanup was finished in 2008 when “21,000 tons of lead-contaminated soil was removed and the site was covered with clean fill.’’

7. MASSACHUSETTS SMELTING & REFINING CO., 257 Third St., E. Cambridge, Mass., 02142

The EPA deemed this space as in no need of further action and it has now been renovated into loft apartments and commercial space.

8. ACME SMELTING CO. OF MASS. / ACME TYPE METAL CO., 413 Second St., Everett, Mass., 02149

The EPA visited the site in 2002 and declared “no further action warranted,’’ but when a “multiyear environmental assessment’’ started in 2004, a private contractor found significant lead contamination. The site was paved to contain contamination in 2008 and there has yet to be a cleanup plan put into place.

9. RICHARDS CORP., 356 Commercial, Malden, Mass., 02148

“No further action was warranted’’ as declared by the EPA because there is a paved parking lot and no exposed soil. There were no soil samples suggested.

10.DAVID FEINBURG CO., 177 River’s Edge Dr., Medford, Mass., 02155

No further action was needed under the EPA’s report in 2002, because the site was “being included in a multiproperty contamination assessment as part of a major development project.’’ The soil was contaminated and cleaned under the EPA’s Brownfields program.

11. B. BLOOMFIELD & CO., 2-3 Kansas St., Worcester, Mass., 01610

A private consultant determined the site was contaminated because it once operated as a scrap yard. Hundreds of tons of soil was removed in 2004, but further cleanup is still necessary.


Read more about USA Today’s investigation here.

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