The cleanup of a polluted Massachusetts harbor should serve as an example for tackling other contaminated sites across the country, the EPA’s acting head said.
About 18,000 acres of marine estuary in coastal New Bedford were contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) from the 1940s to the 1970s, when industries along the Acushnet River dumped their waste into the city’s sewage system and the river. PCBs accumulate in fatty tissues and are suspected of causing cancer.
The agency hopes that its approach at the New Bedford site—tackling the highest concentrations of pollutants nearest the industrial sites first—can be used at other Superfund sites to speed cleanup efforts. In the past nine months, 43,000 tons of contaminated sediment were removed from the harbor area at the New Bedford site, cutting the amount of PCB pollution in half, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
“There is not a better Superfund cleanup example than New Bedford,” Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said July 25, standing on a New Bedford pier in front of a large warehouse that is the staging ground for filtering thousands of tons of contaminated soil.
The New Bedford Port Authority has considered the piers as a possible location for assembling wind turbines once it is cleaned up.
The event marked the first anniversary of a Superfund task force established by former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, who took a personal hand in selecting sites for quicker cleanup. The task force made recommendations for improving the Superfund cleanup process, which the agency anticipates implementing over the next year.
The EPA declared the New Bedford site a Superfund site in 1983 and the cleanup began in 1998, by dredging the most highly-contaminated sediments, which hold up to 50 parts per billion of PCBs. The EPA stepped up the dredging after it won a $366 million settlement in 2013 against one of the responsible parties, Aerovox.
Wheeler said he wants the EPA to communicate better with communities impacted by pollution. To that end the EPA will create an easy to understand website that will show in real time the amount of dangerous contaminants at Superfund sites that people may be exposed to, Wheeler said.