Chemicals from Rite-Way’s on-site dry cleaning have contaminated the ground and potential sale

The empty former Rite-Way Dry Cleaners on Hudson Street in Cambridge’s Neighborhood 9. (Photo: Marc Levy)

[ – 2024.04.20] Levels of contamination at the empty former Rite-Way Dry Cleaners are “high” and nearly unprecedented in their complexity in the experience of a 28-year environmental expert who talked with neighbors at a Thursday meeting.

A best-case scenario for remediation would be to demolish or do significant reconstruction of the structure, which would allow direct access for removal of contaminated soil under the building at 4 Hudson St. in the North Commons neighborhood of Neighborhood 9, said Daniel G. Jaffe of Environmental Properties, a firm in Newton.

The Rite-Way structure was built in 1925 and has hosted a dry cleaning business from the 1960s until Rite-Way shuttered in the first half of 2018, according to documents prepared for the site’s owner, Nathaniel Swartz of Tennessee.

When Rite-Way was in business, it was a point of pride for owner Babu Patel that his was “the only dry cleaner in the area who cleans clothes on-premises,” he told the publication American Drycleaner in 2014. “That means I can control quality as well as garment flow.” But it’s turned into a headache for Swartz’ trust, because suspected contamination makes a sale or leasing complicated. Under law, the owners of the property do not have to remediate contamination to sell, but they do have to disclose the contamination to a buyer, and it’s harder to finance purchase of a contaminated site and to insure it.

The best way to remediate is to remove the contaminated soil, but the multiple buildings involved in a dense urban area present logistical issues. Jaffe said microbes could be injected into the soil to break down the toxins, but that process takes longer and can also expand the borders of the contamination. Similar if lesser contamination once found at 1615 Massachusetts Ave., a site owned by Harvard, was remediated easily because a building was razed and the contaminated soil removed, Jaffe said.

“Nobody knows what’s going on,” said one Shepard Street resident. “There is no trust.”

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