Brad Leach
Board of Health Agent

Age: 72
Retired April 24, 1992

Interviewed March 11, 1992

Concord Oral History Program
Interviewed by Renee Garrelick

Brad Leach Private work in bacteriological and chemical analysis of
milk products,

Concord dairy farms
Home delivery of milk and refrigeration of

As Concord Health Officer
Increase in scope of work for Board of Health
Inspection of septic systems
Restaurant supervision
Lead paint and asbestos
Increase in home businesses using food service

Indsutry of West Concord
Nuclear Metals and defeat of 1991 Town Meeting
Petition Article for greater regulation

Impact of greater development and sensitivity to
intrusion on residences

Planning Department responsibilities as separate
function from Board of Health for health risk

After I got out of the service, I decided to get involved in a private laboratory that was geared to the dairy industry. What we did was both bacteriological and chemical analysis of milk products to improve the quality of the milk coming in from the dairy farms and to improve the quality and shelf life of the product being sold by the pasturizing plant.

In Concord there were several dairy farms, and I can remember some of the names, such as Mr. Puffer who had a Jersey herd up on Monument Street; Mr. Windhol, who also was on Monument Street, had a mixed herd of dairy cattle; Nowalk Farm down on Lexington Road, Fred Jones had a mixed herd, mostly Holsteins I believe but also a pasturizing plant where he bottled and pasturized and made home deliveries. of course, there was another dairy farm over on Route 117 where the Unisys property is now. That was owned by a family named Frost. Then the Verrill Farm was a big farm in those days. I think they milked something like 60 head of cows and were putting out about a ton of milk a day even in those early days, which showed that they had a very high production level. They had an unusual approach to improving their breed. They crossed Guernseys and Holsteins together to get a high butterfat, high producing cow, and it made for a very interesting dairy farm to visit. There was another farm up on Monument Street by the name of Hutchins, and another one on Strawberry Hill Road by the name of Bresnick. I think the man in the household there had a very small herd, and I think it was kind of a supplement to his work with the Christian Science Monitor if I recall. Then of course, the Mattison Farm on Williams Road was a pure bred Ayrshire Farm and they stayed in business some time after most of the dairy farms went out. But I guess Mr. Verrill, as you know, was the one to stay the longest in Concord. Now there are no dairy farms in Concord at all.

The Concord Dairy, which was the biggest dairy that delivered the most milk around this neighborhood, not only in Concord but in the other towns, also got milk from other farms just outside of Concord in Lincoln, Carlisle and Acton. They probably got milk from about 15 different dairies. It was delivered every day in those days in jugs. If we think about the quality control, our first concern in those days was, even earlier than the 1940s, to make sure the milk was wholesome and entirely milk. Farmers in the real early days didn't have mechanical refrigeration, and they had to cool their milk down by putting it in some kind of wide basin in a brook and sometimes the cans would tip over and a little water would get in. So we did tests to determine how much water was in there and try to correct those situations and so forth.

Then of course, refrigeration came along where they had mechanical tanks that the jugs would sit in and circulate the cold water that was refrigerated by this mechanical means. That was a big step forward but then in the later years, the real improvement came when the stainless steel tanks replaced the individual jugs, and the milk was probably picked up every other day because the cooling was so much better. It would keep just that much better. It made it more efficient, of course, to send a stainless steel tank truck around. It was a big step forward in the dairy industry.

Home delivery of milk as well as other things were really part of small town life. If you think back, you had the baker who used to make home deliveries and the dry cleaning person would come around and pick up dry cleaning and shirts and that sort of laundry and make home delivery. I guess it was probably in the middle '60s when two car families began to get more popular, and the rationale of getting a second car in the family was that you wouldn't have to have home deliveries any more and that changed whole industries such as dairies, bakeries, etc.

In 1969 I was acting as the Director of Health in Acton and Paul Flynn, (the Town Manager in Concord), asked if I couldn't help him with some little problems that had occurred because of the death of Ed Wright who was then the plumbing and septic system inspector for the Board of Health here in Concord. So I agreed to come down and help him a little bit like an hour a day, and I did that either during my lunch time or after my regular work in Acton. I did that for about six months, and then I moved with my family to Maine. Sometime shortly after going to Maine, I got a phone call from Paul and he asked if I couldn't come down from Maine a couple days a week. I agreed to that and started a long term arrangement of two days a week and then it got to be four days a week. There were some periods where they got someone else to work for the Board of Health and for various reasons they didn't stay on and I was kind of in and out for a while. But that's how I got involved with the Town of Concord.

In those days my primary job was just to do the septic systems. Then as times changed and I was asked to come down three and four days a week, it was to do the whole job as the Board of Health officer for the Town of Concord. That involved not only coping with the various calls and so forth and the inspections in housing and septic systems and restaurants, but also being a liaison between the staff and the Board of Health to facilitate all the duties that they had to do. There was a point in time when the Board of Health would come to meetings without much of an agenda, and just a pile of papers would be passed to them and they would try to cope with that. It got unrealistic and it got to the point where an agenda was developed and I did that. We tried to follow the agenda and follow up on certain things that were important and make it more business-like.

When I started, it was a three-man Board of Health. It was in the early 1970s that it became a five-man Board of Health, and that has certainly been a good move. We have some people with real expertise, people who give an awful lot of their time and their expertise to help the town in their health problems. It's been a real pleasure working with them over these years. I've enjoyed that.

Not only the regulations make the repairs of septic systems more detailed, but the systems around town get older and older and fail more frequently. I should say it's beginning to show up more frequently, and people are more concerned about doing a better job in repairing them. I've always been suspicious that before health agents were around very much that people did the best they could by going out and digging a ditch off into the wetlands or something like that, but we don't see that happening nowadays. We see people wanting to cooperate and try to put in the best they can to protect the environment, even though sometimes the costs get quite high. It's difficult because Concord is confluent of two rivers that make up the third river, and consequently there is a lot of wetland. That presents a problem in itself, just the fact that we are close to the water table near all over.

You see in Concord we are a town that has a lot of visitors, and it is important that the restaurants take care of these people. Consequently, we need to make sure that the restaurants are up to speed on carrying out their responsibilities in cooking the food and preparing it and serving it and all the other things that go with it to insure that people aren't getting an illness from eating in Concord.

There is a better awareness of airborne diseases from bacteria now than when I first started. We've given quite a few courses to the restaurant people, the employees and the food service core, to help them become more aware of that. I can recall way back in the early days where we used to take special little bottles and some nutrient agar into restaurants, and we would swab some dishes and leave them right in the restaurant at room temperature which wasn't probably the ideal temperature but it was good enough for demonstration purposes. Some of those plates would show a lot of growth of bacteria and others wouldn't. The person working in there could say, "Oh, yea, we treated those dishes better than we did those others and there is the difference right there." That was the early days of trying to demonstrate to food service workers a little education. Now we have courses where they can get certified in all the bacteriological aspects of restaurant work plus chemical reaction to some of the sanitizers they use. They have a much better chance to get a full knowledge of what they need to do in a restaurant.

The Department of Public Health in the Commonwealth had some people who were really farsighted. They developed some procedures for immunization against diseases before any of the other states got involved. In fact they still have those buildings where they still do that with their influenza program and their measles and mumps programs in Jamaica Plain in Boston. I can remember visiting that site where they used to use horses and draw blood from the horses to use in some of these programs because that was the only way they could develop some of the vaccine that was used in those days. They are recognized in the country as being a leader in some of those early immunization programs.

A new problem that has come up is the lead paint and asbestos issues. We've always had a concern about the minimum standard for human habitation which would address things like making sure that the household was kept clean and safe for the occupants, but now there has been a-big push toward lead paint removal because of the damage it does to children especially under six, and also asbestos as an airborne contaminant causing asbestosis. I'm sure down the road there will be something else that we haven't thought of yet.

We see more requests now for people who want to work out of their home. If you attended the Board of Appeals you would hear a lot of that, but we have to tell people that as far as the food service industry is concerned that that has to be restricted. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts does allow for bake sales to be prepared in the home but that's about the limit of it. If anyone wants to get involved in a real food service industry, we encouage them and try to recommend places where they can perhaps lease space and do their food service products in a location that has already been approved as a food service kitchen. That's makes everybody feel more comfortable. They're really in an environment that can be inspected and meet the inspection requirements so they can feel comfortable about their product and the public will feel comfortable about using a product that is safe. We also have things like people who want to practice massage therapy, etc.

In West Concord, the 50 Beharrel Street site was owned by the Damon family and they did a lot of woodworking there and before them apparently there was a wool carding mill. That was a mill where bales of wool came in there, and it was shredded and prepared to go to the next step in the process of making clothing. In those days I guess the machinery that was used for that seems as though all the gears were bathed in the big tanks of oil so the state of the art was to just dump any waste out in the backyard. We had quite a large cleanup to do on the back of that property several years ago. It was mostly wool waste and oil, which was a very odorous material. We feel that the cleanup was successful as it was approved by DEP on that site. That's the sort of newer things that are going on today. We have some other sites that haven't been defined yet, and they may find that there is nothing there, but there are some other sites such as gas stations that may or may not have underground contaminants. We get a list from the state a couple times a year indicating where they are and of what stage of investigation they are at. So that's another aspect of things we get into.

I think the chemicals and things they used were a little more basic but that doesn't mean that they do less harm to the environment if they got into the wrong places like the water, the drinking water. But they didn't have all these additives and preservatives that get into the products that we think of today that seem to be much more harmful and injurious. They can cause cancer and that sort of thing, if they get into the water table and then get injested by people.

Last year at town meeting there was a (petition) article concerning Nuclear Metals, and it raised the issue as to how much regulation should there be by the Board of Health when you already have state and federal regulations. That was an interesting timeframe and the Board of Health really grappled with its responsibility, and the results of the town meeting I guess speak for themselves. As you know, the town meeting decided not to put any more pressure on the local Board of Health to try to enforce above and beyond the state and federal requirements on industry and specifically on NMI. There were a lot of public meetings that made the people aware of the problem and also in some cases reassured them that there was enough regulation and enough controls already in place without taking this extremely prohibitive approach to more regulations. That got its airing at town meeting, it was quite a long town meeting and a lot of people spoke on that subject and eventually the vote was very favorable to not to go forward with that.

This town, when I first came to it, was more agricultural than anything else. We had the Damon Mill in West Concord and we had the woodworking in West Concord, General Radio was just beginning and Nuclear Metals didn't come until 1958, so it was mostly a farming community and a residential community. A lot of people walked to the Concord depot and took the train to Boston and then came home at night and this was their bedroom town. And the rest of the town was the agricultural community, asparagus farms, market garden products, dairy farms, a lot of piggeries probably seven or eight piggeries in Concord and some of them quite large. Most of them were supported by garbage collections in Boston. They trucked the garbage out here to Concord and the garbage fed the pigs. I think the last one probably went out of business in the '70s and that was Ruggiero's farm where Catarina Heights is now.

Business can co-exist with a residential community. I think that is more of a planning function than a Board of Health function because I've always said that the Board of Health shouldn't be concerned about the density or the other things related to planning so long as people can live healthy. You can have a dense population living under healthy conditions if you provide for them or you can have just the opposite. You can have an unhealthy situation with a very low density when conditions aren't run well, so I don't think that is a function of the Board of Health particularly.

As you have greater development you have greater sensitivity to anything intruding on residents, and people can be very outspoken. Farm products do create some problems, odor problems when they try to spread their manure or waste products, and other things of that nature which were considered part of life in the days of agriculture. You might liken it to today's situation where the car is such a way of life with us and we have auto body shops, and when a car gets into an accident and has to go to auto body shop and during the repair it has to get painted, and yet somebody is living close to that and it can present a problem. So we have to get those shops to come up with methods to control those problems and try to still maintain the air quality for the people that have to live around them. There is competition for uses in the community.

Concord does have a lot of varied things when you think about it. We have the industries we've mentioned already, we have the big prison that seems to be well adapted here in Concord, we have a couple of rivers, the headwaters are a long way away from Concord but they -come right down through the heart of Concord and make up the Concord River and go over to the Merrimack River. But the dairy farms are all gone and the piggeries are all gone, and the market gardeners properties are getting smaller every year. We're going to have big acreage owned by the Minuteman Park people so that is going to be mean more tourists and change some little things that we wouldn't have thought of 10 or 20 years ago as more people come to visit. That may mean more motels, I don't know but that's possible.

This may push the Board of Health into thinking of the planning function too, but I don't think we should mix the Board of Health responsibilities with the Planning Department's responsibilities. I think they are two different functions. Maybe there should be discussions between them, but the Board of Health has to look at the health aspects of what they have to work with where the planning can make long range plans as to how they want to see the town develop based on what the people who live here want.

The expertise that seems to come out from people once they become members of the Board has always amazed me. They rise to what is needed. During this NMI situation, that was a very good example of how the Board became knowledgeable and worked with the problems and served the town well in that respect. The townspeople, Board of Health and Selectmen decided that NMI was a manufacturing company that was acting responsibly enough and that the increased regulation on the local side wasn't needed. The vote of the meeting agreed with that. It was very demanding of time and attention, but you have to give everyone their say. You can't ignore that there are some concerns there, and there still are. We haven't walked away from that problem. The monitoring and so forth is still ongoing and will for a long time.

I'm going to retire in April. I'm going to take some time completely away from this and then who knows after that. I know I'm not going to stay inactive completely, I'll get back into something.

Text and image mounted 19th December 2012. RCWH.