New Bedford Harbor Clean-up

Well, since President Obama is intending to dole out more of our hard earned tax dollars to states across the union for infrastructure driven economic development, I hope he remembers New Bedford.  After all, it’s about time Washington finishes funding the harbor clean up it designated a superfund site, going on thirty years ago now.

Below is an excerpt from the testimony given by Executive Director Lenny Siegal who works for The Center for Public Environmental Oversight in California. He appeared before the Subcommittee on Superfund and Environmental Health, Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Health on October 17, 2007. Mr. Siegal had visited New Bedford and asked for comments from the community regarding the cleanup progress and how it impacts quality of life for our residents. He was kind enough to include my testimony in his supporting documentation. His report included several underfunded sites across the United States, here are his thoughts on the New Bedford Harbor site.

“Inadequate Superfund funding is forcing a brownfields-type response, placing the
public at risk. New Bedford Harbor, Massachusetts

‘My little girls Phoebe and Payton are very young, three years and eleven
months respectively. At the current rate of $15 million a year for Acushnet
River Superfund remediation, Phoebe will be twenty-nine years old, just
three years younger than I am now, before it’s clean enough for parents to
feel safe about it. So they won’t have childhood memories of playing
amongst the rocks at the hurricane barrier like I do. Those are some of my
fondest childhood memories, too.—Henry Bousquet, New Bedford,
Massachusetts.’

One of the nation’s Superfund “mega-sites,” the 18,000-acre New Bedford
Harbor’s sediment contains high concentrations of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in
several areas. Over 100,000 people live within three miles of the site. Though there were
many sources, the largest appears to have been Aerovox, a manufacturer of electrical
capacitors and transformers, which operated on the harbor’s edge from about 1940 to
1977. There are supposed to be signs along the waterfront warning people not to eat fish,
but they often disappear and must be replaced.
Each summer sediment is dredged, de-sanded, de-watered, and shipped to a
licensed PCB-landfill in Michigan. The Army Corps of Engineers, under contract to U.S.
EPA, started dredging harbor hot spots as early as 1994. The Corps is just finishing its
fourth year of full-scale dredging, with only about 40 days in the field each year. Based
upon the numbers I was given when I visited, this year the Corps removed 25,000 cubic
yards of contaminated sediment, treated 20-million gallons of water, and shipped 16,000
tons of residue by train to Michigan.
There is consensus support for the remedy, but this is far from a success story.
Community members express serious concern at the anticipated duration of the project.
At the current rate, dredging will continue for an estimated 25 years. The problem
isn’t capacity or weather, but money.
Siegel—Replenishing Superfund 10 October 17, 2007
In New Bedford Harbor, Massachusetts the dredge is towed by cables from the shore
Over the life of the project, EPA has spent over $235 million for “planning,
engineering, and construction” at New Bedford Harbor. Reportedly, over $100 million
has come from private responsible parties. However, the remaining funding—nearly $300
million more—will have to come from EPA’s depleted Superfund. At $15 million per
year, the project proceeds slowly and suffers significant inefficiencies from the imposed
start-and-stop response.
Activists are concerned about continuing public exposures to PCBs through
water, air, and food chain pathways. Even though the entire inner harbor and thousands
of acres of the outer harbor have been closed to shellfish harvesting and fishing since
1979, residents are known to harvest and eat fish, lobster and shellfish from the harbor,
exposing themselves to potential risks from PCB ingestion. Local residents would like
subsistence fishing to resume safely. And they point out that as long as the harbor is
contaminated, the once valuable lobster fishery and hard shell clam industry—which
brought in some five million dollars to the regional economy—will remain sidelined and
the comprehensive redevelopment of otherwise attractive shoreline brownfields
properties will be difficult in New Bedford and other communities on the harbor.
Siegel—Replenishing Superfund 11 October 17, 2007
POLYCHLORINATED BIPHENYLS (PCBs)
In summary, PCBs have been demonstrated to cause a variety of serious health effects.
PCBs have been shown to cause cancer and a number of serious non-cancer health
effects in animals, including effects on the immune system, reproductive system,
nervous system, and endocrine system. Studies in humans provide supportive evidence
for the potential carcinogenicity and non-carcinogenic effects of PCBs. The different
health effects of PCBs may be interrelated, as alterations in one system may have
significant implications for the other regulatory systems of the body.—U.S. EPA
Conclusion
While U.S. EPA‘s CERCLA program has always had significant room for
improvement, it has protected public health and improved the natural environment in
hundreds of communities across the United States. Today, however, both at sites already
dependent upon EPA funding and those that should be added to the National Priorities
List, cleanup is slow and inefficient, and expenses are often borne by third parties. Many
vapor intrusion sites—with completed pathways but without responsible parties—are not
getting the attention they deserve. Replenishing the fund would be a giant step forward in
recognizing, investigating, and remediating the most contaminated sites in America.”

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