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Councilor suggests Mass and Cass street sweepers are spreading disease through surrounding neighborhoods, also calls for tax breaks for Mass and Cass landowners

City Councilor Erin Murphy (at large) today declared a "public health crisis" being caused by having the same city street sweepers that brush up debris at Mass and Cass also go along the curb in the South End, Chinatown, Bay Village, Beacon Hill and Back Bay - an idea blasted as fearmongering by one of her colleagues.

Murphy also cited statistics released by state clean-water advocates last week that showed Fort Point Channel, which is sort of near Mass and Cass showing poor water quality there, including high bacteria counts and questioned whether that might be related to the sordid conditions where Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard meet.

In a formal order to hold public-works officials to account, Murphy demanded:

Ceasing the practice of using the same street cleaning equipment immediately and using specialized equipment, solely designated for this area, given the hazardous and infectious substances that are prevalent in the area is needed. This is a Public Health Crisis and we need to start addressing it that way so urgent attention, that is so desperately needed, can be given to all those affected.

Two of her colleagues, however, were just not having it.

Councilor Gabriela Coletta, whose district includes the North End, blasted the attempt to spread "unwarranted fear" over an issue that no Boston public-health official has yet raised, especially just a couple years out from the worst days of the pandemic, which showed what happens "when public health matters become political."

She said the notion of disease spreading outward from Mass and Cass via street sweepers and a small body of water nobody should be swimming in anyway was so outlandish she could not take the normally routine step of "signing on" to another councilor's hearing request.

Coletta said she had been told Public Works has not even sent a street sweeper down Atkinson Street, at the heart of Mass and Cass, in more than seven months. Instead, she said the department sprays down the street with a sanitizing solution.

As for Fort Point Channel, she said that waterway has gotten failing grades for years, long before the Mass and Cass crisis.

Councilor Ruthzee Louijeune (at large) said she's all for asking city public-health officials to at least consider the street-sweeper issue, but said that, as a Haitian-American, she is wary of any efforts to stigmatize a entire group, as happened to Haitians and Haitian-Americans in the early days of the AIDS epidemic.

Another Mass and Cass proposal by Murphy - to consider tax breaks for landowners in Newmarket Square - got a less hostile reaction.

She said businesses in the Mass and Cass area, have spent millions of their own money trying to protect their businesses and livelihoods, because they city has proven unable to do so.

"We've failed them by not providing a safe environment," she said.

City Councilor Michael Flaherty (at large), who included the South Bay Mall in his definition of the affected area, agreed. "They've put up with enough," he said. "They deserve better."

City Councilor Julia Mejia (at large), also agreed the idea is worth a look. She pointed to the pizza place right in the middle of Mass and Cass as a prime example of a small business that has been greatly harmed - via vandalism and other means - through no fault of its own.


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Comments

Erin is the great white hope of Boston MAGA supporters. It’s a tale as old as time. And thank God… she will lose when she runs for Mayor.

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Voting closed 67

You must be a lefty progressive aka ...the other end of the extreme. Erin is a Democrat who leans more towards the center...meaning she actually doesn't fall on the party lines and do the extreme. She's exactly what we need in the city government.

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Voting closed 36

Magoo ‘specs that disease can only be spread from sweeping if one uses one’s bummy hairs to sweep. One would do this by crab walking and scooting one’s bummy along to sweep up dirt. Magoo.

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Voting closed 36

If we could only stop the spread of Magoo.

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Voting closed 83

Tolerance of this bullshit will destroy this city. The Newmarket Association should file a mandamus action forcing the City to enforce the law and remove the encampments permanently.

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Voting closed 52

Actually, given the shelter system is struggling that this law might kick in. If there are no alternatives, then tents can stay.

https://www.vox.com/23748522/tent-encampments-martin-boise-homelessness-...

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Voting closed 18

The decision is narrow, and only addressed the issue of criminal offenses for sleeping in public in Boise. It does not give homeless people a right to build encampments. The ruling is much like decriminalizing public intoxication, which is not a crime, but that also is neither endorsed nor tolerated when it interferes with the function of normal society.

https://harvardlawreview.org/print/vol-133/martin-v-city-of-boise/

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Voting closed 18

To do what? There is no simple good option to deal with it. Homelessness isn't a crime, they cannot be forced to go to a shelter, cannot be forced to take housing, and cannot be forced to go to rehab(not helpful anyhow). We kick them off mass and cass then what? Where do the encampments spring up next? The financial district? Dtx? The common? Comm ave? They aren't just going to go oh well time to leave Boston.

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Voting closed 33

I am homeless. I am not an addict or alcoholic. I have a job. The majority of homeless now are not addicts. Many cities believe that homelessness is a crime.

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Voting closed 23

Unlike Councilor Murphy, I actually looked up if anyone has ever recorded if street sweepers had ever, in all of time, anywhere on this planet, been responsible for spreading disease.

I won't keep you in suspense. The answer is no.

What I expected to find was something something Victorian London something cholera, but not even that.

Here's what I did find:

The only recent death in Massachusetts related to street sweeping that made the CDC website was in 1996. "[A] 13 year old male occasional construction laborer was fatally injured when he was crushed beneath an unattended rolling street sweeper at an asphalt plant, owned by his father. The victim was walking away from the sweeper at the time of the incident. The vehicle had been parked at the top of an incline and rolled approximately 140 feet striking the victim and running over him."
Grisly, horrible, a good argument against child labor, but not a public health issue per se.

When I searched a database of medical journals using the terms "street sweeper" and "water" and "disease," the closest I got was a case of an asphalt spraying machine that used water from a spring infected with the legionellis bacterium in the late 1990s/early aughts. The heat from the asphalt made the legionellus particularly aerosole.
Coscollá M, Fenollar J, Escribano I, et al. Legionellosis Outbreak Associated with Asphalt Paving Machine, Spain, 2009. Emerging Infectious Diseases. 2010;16(9):1381-1387. doi:10.3201/eid1609.100248.

There are, however, unsurprisingly cases of street sweepers themselves getting nasty lung infections from breathing particulates kicked up by the sweeping machines. Perhaps Cllr. Murphy could look into that if she is interested in preventing preventable disease.

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Voting closed 109

If you google street sweeper death, there are a few results...

https://www.jacksonville.com/story/news/crime/2017/06/12/man-dies-saturd...

Who knew Jax, FL had street sweepers to begin with?

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Voting closed 14

Wait, Jacksonville has streets now?

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Voting closed 11

Jacksonville doesn't have anything but streets.

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Voting closed 13

Never would have considered that it would show up with heavy road equipment rather than HVAC units.

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Voting closed 13

@bibliotequetress.

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Voting closed 4

Anyone who wants to should be able to lick the pavement or the bottom of a street sweeper, anywhere in the city, without fear.

Kudos to Erin Murphy, the only councilor who can be relied on to defend voters who enjoy slurping stuff off of asphalt.

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Voting closed 47

"Street sweeping spreads sickness" is a Grade-A conspiracy. It's worthy of the fluoride-in-water award for wingnutism.

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Voting closed 66

Murphy's 2025 mayoral campaign is really off to a roaring start

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Voting closed 46

Reminds me of the nonsense about getting aids from toilet seats back in the 80s.

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Voting closed 62

I'm going to patent the idea

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Voting closed 16

All the councilor needs is a sheet of paper and a pair of scissors. With a little grade school crafting she can find out if she will be the next mayor AND capture any cooties that stray out of the Mass and Cass area.

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Voting closed 22

To assume these street sweepers are cleaning up needles and human shit.

How about we clear out Mass and Cass, problem solved.

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Voting closed 19

as it's not *completely* far-fetched to imagine that some disease or another could be spread on all the dust that gets kicked up by the street sweepers.

But.

Declaring a Public Health Crisis on the *presumption* that this is true? Bonkers.

And then it just goes on. Citizens are really concerned that runoff from that area goes into the Harbor? Pull the other one. Sewage having lots of harmful bacteria, and this somehow having any relationship to the Sacklerville situation? Incoherent.

No mention of what these "hazardous and infectious substances" are.

As far as I'm aware, the main Public Health Crisis there is the duo of poverty and addiction. Does she think that fentanyl is getting spilled on the road, tracked around on the street sweepers, and aerosolized in Back Bay? Is that what's going on here?

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Voting closed 17

That is all this is.

She's gone maga in my eyes. This is nothing but crazy talk.

And not for nothing, if this was really a thing.. this would happen a lot more and we'd hear about it alot more.. AND we'd hear about it happening alot more in other places.

Remember folks Mass & Cass isn't the ONLY place where folks congregate.

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Voting closed 45

to use the Bush-era phrase.

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Voting closed 21

I'd look at other things first. Is there a Combined Sewer Overflow there, for instance? Even if not, all the recent stormwater runoff probably isn't making that body of water any cleaner right now.

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Voting closed 16

Let's have a hearing on Erin Murphy's ignorance, as it is a way bigger threat to Boston than street sweepers.

Also, Ed Flynn & Michael Flaherty signed onto this, so they shouldn't be let off the hook.

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Voting closed 45

That someone so ignorant is one of our city councilors is the main issue here.

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Voting closed 31

I can't believe HAZMAT officials on a much higher level haven't stormed in at Mass Cass. I mean should city janitors be cleaning HIV, HVC infected feces in alleys, sidewalks, and rain runoff/puddles, urine and other bodily fluids, fentanyl bags, dirty needles, every where u turn down there? This is affecting every form of life of all ages, our water, and land.

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Voting closed 10

For someone who is apparently very concerned about the spread of HIV, you don't seem to know anything about how it is spread.

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Voting closed 18

The city council should be forced to run all crackpot bullshit past a scientific advisor first.

"I wonder if street sweepers are spreading disease around the city..."

"No. Next."

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Voting closed 18

Next on the agenda “is there any good reason to have an invocation before city council meeting?”

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Voting closed 9

Hand washing stops any spread.

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Voting closed 4