Polluted Massachusetts river designated a Superfund site

March 14, 2022 GMT

BOSTON (AP) — A heavily polluted stretch of the Neponset River in Massachusetts was named a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Superfund site on Monday, opening the door for what could be an expensive and yearslong cleanup.

Analyses by both the U.S. Geological Survey and Massachusetts Department of Environmental Affairs have found that sediment from the 3.7-mile stretch of the Lower Neponset that forms the border between Boston and the suburb of Milton is contaminated with PCBs from manufacturing facilities dating to the Industrial Revolution that once lined the waterway.

PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, had multiple industrial and commercial applications, and have been tied to multiple health problems in humans, including cancer. Their use has been banned since 1979.

Local environmental advocates as well as state leaders have for years been trying to get the river designated for cleanup to protect both neighbors and wildlife.

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“We now have a mechanism to clean up the river and protect the health of the communities around it, as well as increasing the overall use and enjoyment of this important resource” EPA Regional Administrator David Cash said at a news conference along the river attended by U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, U.S. Reps. Ayanna Pressley and Stephen Lynch, Boston Mayor Michelle Wu and other officials.

The river, like so many contaminated industrial sites nationwide, runs through neighborhoods largely populated by people of color, Pressley said.

“We know that to combat decades of environmental racism, we must prioritize environmental justice, which is intrinsically linked to racial health and economic justice,” she said.

The EPA’s Superfund National Priorities List includes the nation’s most serious uncontrolled or abandoned releases of contamination, and serves as the basis for prioritizing cleanup funding and enforcement actions.

Monday’s designation is just the start of the process, said Meghan Cassidy, the deputy director of the Superfund program in the EPA’s Boston office. She could not say how long the project would take or how much it will cost.

“It can be a time-consuming project and this will be an expensive cleanup,” she said. “This is a very large and complex site.”

The next step is a remedial investigation to get a detailed evaluation of the extent of the pollution. She said she would not be surprised if such an investigation found contamination beyond just PCBs.

The EPA will also look into whether any businesses that contributed to the pollution still exist and can be compelled to help pay for the cleanup, so taxpayers will not have to foot the entire bill, she said.

“One day soon, all of the Neponset River will be safe and clean again,” Sen. Warren said.