In a major victory for the City of Cambridge, the Massachusetts Supreme Court yesterday upheld the city's ban on the testing, storage, transportation or disposal of serve gases at the Arthur D. Little Inc (ADL) laboratories.
The decision, which local officials predicted ADL would promptly appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, outlaws the testing of deadly blister agents at the controversial facilities, located within two miles of Harvard.
In a 30-page ruling written by Chief Justice Edward Hennessey, the high court affirmed an earlier superior court ruling, declaring Cambridge's ban "valid and enforceable."
The North Cambridge research firm, located at 25 Acora Park, has been resting small amounts of toxic chemicals, for the Department of Defense since the fall of 1983.
ADL spokesman Alma Triner said yesterday her company was "not exactly happy" about the decision, but said the research firm would abide by the ruling. Triner said she did not know if or when an appeal would be filed.
Triner said neither the ruling nor the ban would force any layoffs, since the defense work comprises only a small portion of the company's work with chemicals.
In a report released last year, Cambridge's Scientific Advisory Board told city officials that ADL's laboratories might contain up to 300,000 lethal doses at any given time. Experts on the panel predicted that if the worst-possible accident occurred, the gases could kill 30-40 persons within a one-mile radius of the facility.
After a series of hearings, Cambridge Health and Hospitals Commissioner Melvin H. Chalfen citing the risk to Cambridge residents, issued an unprecedented restriction on the use of nerve gas agents within city limits in March, 1984.
Soon, afterward, ADL received an injunction to continue resting until a Superior Court ruling upheld the city's ordinance this past spring.
But with this latest decision from the state's highest judicial authority, ADL must finally stop experimenting with the gases in its specially built, $1 million Levins research Laboratory. Before ADL could obtain another injunction to resume testing, the U.S. Supreme Court would have to agree to hear the case.
The ruling marks a major victory for Cambridge, which fought ADL's claim that federal legislation on weapons and defense powers superseded any local prohibition on such activity. Lawyers for the defense contractor also contended that the state's Constitutional stipulations on weapons development authorized chemical warfare research.
But the state court ruled that the Cambridge resolution was not preempted by any state or national legislation, thereby affirming the right of local municipalities over national interests.
In yesterday's ruling, The Massachusetts high court said the Cambridge ban was "not unreasonable, arbitrary, whimsical or capricious" or aimed at special interests, but is "designed to protect all Cambridge citizens from what the commissioner has determined is an unacceptable risk."
"Cambridge is pleased that the Mass Judicial Court has recognized and affirmed the powers of this city and any city to protect the health and welfare of its citizens," City manager Robert W. Healy said in a statement.
"This decision upholds a city's power to reasonably regulate entities including defense contracts and to protect its citizens form the potential hazards that could result from the testing of super toxic chemicals," Cambridge's chief executive said.