MassDOT officials on Friday announced a plan to remove a stockpile of asbestos construction debris dumped on state land next to the Chelsea Housing Authority complex.

Jonathan Gulliver, MassDOT highway administrator, sent a letter to Chelsea Town Manager Thomas Ambrosino about the stockpile that was only recently discovered by city officials and residents. He said the situation developed quickly and it was never the agency’s intention to leave the community uninformed.

“I apologize, and you have our commitment that MassDOT is taking steps to ensure that this does not happen again in Chelsea or any other community," the letter read.

According to MassDOT, construction debris from the Belden G. Bly Drawbridge project was stockpiled near the on- and off-ramps of the Route 1 South/Route 16 interchange in Chelsea in late summer of last year, but residents and city officials only recently learned of it and its toxicity.

MassDOT said only a portion of the stockpile is contaminated with asbestos and that the material poses no risk to the health and safety of the community. The agency plans to begin to removing the debris as early as May 13, after a contractor assembles equipment at the site and the Department of Environmental Protection conducts a required inspection.

Residents said they noticed the construction debris was piling up for a while and that it is now the size of one-half of a football field. Due to the amount of soil, MassDOT estimates the removal effort to take about 30 days.

The fact that the debris is laden with asbestos, a known carcinogen, is of great concern to Paul Abate, who lives on across the street from the housing complex on Garfield Avenue.

“There's a lot of children in this area and we certainly want to worry about their health,” Abate said, “but there are also a lot of elderly, and it could cause quite a lot of respiratory illnesses. My wife herself has asthma and she … believes that could be contributing to her condition.”

Roseann Bongiovanni is with Green Roots, a resident-led environmental justice group serving Chelsea and East Boston, and she said she's outraged the state would dump a known carcinogen next to apartments. She pointed to environmental justice legislation passed last year as part of the state’s climate roadmap bill. She said MassDOT’s action is counter to the law’s aim to protect and prioritize low-income communities of color.

My gut reaction is complete stupidity and clearly a lack of communication within the Department of Transportation, number one," she said. "I imagine that it happened because they figured, oh, well, those folks in Chelsea won't know any better.”

Chelsea Town Manager Thomas Ambrosino expressed anger that a state agency would dump material with asbestos next to apartments in an area that has already been so impacted by pollution.

“It is reprehensible," said Ambrosino, "and the city is doing everything it can to get MassDOT to get rid of it as quickly as possible."

Paul Nowicki, director of operations for the Chelsea Housing Authority, said they are alerting residents as more information comes in. There are two developments within the complex, The Prattville apartments with 128 units, and the Fitzpatrick with 70 apartments. Nowicki was on the grounds Friday to collect soil and air samples and to swipe windowsills and countertops.

“So we can get a better reading of what's going on in this area," he said.

MassDOT notified the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Conservation as soon as test results confirmed the material contained asbestos.

MassDOT officials told GBH News that the site is one of many locations they use to temporarily store construction debris, and that it will be moved within 2-3 weeks to a site in New York or New Hampshire when final permits are secured.

But Bongiovanni with the local environmental justice group said they’re seeking site remediation and mitigation to any impacted neighbors, and a formal apology to residents.

“Our community deserves an apology for placing cancer-causing contaminants in our city, next to our most vulnerable residents.”

Produced with assistance from the Public Media Journalists Association Editor Corps funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people.