Toxic Map of Massachusetts Reveals Threats to Public Health

Today, Toxics Action Center, a non-profit organization that organizes with residents to prevent and clean up sources of toxic pollution in their communities, released Toxics in Massachusetts: A Town-By-Town Profile.  This report and accompanying maps highlight Massachusetts’s toxic legacy and the associated potential health and environmental hazards. 

“Massachusetts citizens are often left in the dark when it comes to toxic threats in their communities.  This map reveals a legacy of pollution in the state that will surprise most residents,” said Sylvia Broude, Lead Organizer for Toxics ActionCenter.  “For citizens who are looking for answers, our report is a one-stop source of information.”

Toxics in Massachusetts: A Town-By-Town Profile and accompanying map show that Massachusetts has 36 Superfund hazardous waste sites on the National Priorities List, an additional 1900 tier-classified toxic waste sites identified by the state, 1,103 hazardous waste generators, 247 partially capped or uncapped landfills, 264 closed landfills, and 7 solid waste incinerators.

“This report and the maps included in the report are a tool to inform Massachusettsresidents about potential environmental health threats in their communities,” said Dr. David Ozonoff, Professor of Environmental Health at Boston University School of Public Health and Director of the BU Superfund Research Program. “The information in this report is freely available to all Massachusetts residents but it isn’t always accessible. Toxics Action Center has made an important contribution.”

The report makes a number of broad policy recommendations for state agencies to take action and protect public health; these actions include phasing out persistent toxic chemicals and replacing them with safer alternatives, assuring appropriate cleanup of hazardous waste through increased funding and shorter timelines for cleanups, creating a “zero-waste” plan that maximizes waste reduction across the state, advancing renewable energy technologies, reducing pesticide exposures, and protecting water quality.  Nationally, more than 80,000 chemicals are used in manufacturing and many have not been tested for human health effects.  In addition, environmental toxins are increasingly linked to adverse health effects such as endocrine disruption, reproductive problems, cancer, and neurodevelopmental disorders.

Home to two National Priority List superfund sites, 25 Tier 1 hazardous waste sites, and 19 large quantity hazardous waste generators, residents of the City of New Bedford face exposure risks from many sources.  One of those sources is the Parker Street waste dump site, upon which sit two public schools, several private residences, recreational facilities and potentially several businesses and apartments for low income families.  . Although much progress has been made to identify and clean up contamination at the Parker Street dump site, significant contamination remains in the ground underneath New Bedford High School and Keith Middle School, as well as beneath several homes and in the wetlands behind Keith Middle.  Residents and members of the community group Citizens Leading Environmental Action Network (CLEAN) gathered in front of the New Bedford High School, where toxic chlorinated solvent vapors were discovered just last month in groundwater running underneath the school and in indoor air in the basement of the building.

“CLEAN is committed to making the Parker Street neighborhood a safe and healthy place to live and work,” said Eddie Johnson, the President of CLEAN. “We are alarmed that the City is still finding new sources of contamination at the school and other sites after years of work and millions of dollars spent to clean them up.” Johnson urged the City, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to take action to protect school-building occupants by conducting more extensive testing under the school-building footprint to determine the source of contamination, and developing a plan to either permanently clean up the contamination or demolish the school.

Reverend Curtis Dias, local environmental justice activist, commented, “I am involved in this effort for the sake of the environment, the children, the public health and public safety.  The residents living in home rights nearby us today cannot sell their houses for even one penny because of contamination.  The people have to be made whole. We need the City and the state to clean up this mess.” 

The group was also joined by Carol Strupczewski, the Secretary of CLEAN, a retired, 31-year teacher at New Bedford High School. She has been informally conducting health surveys of teachers at the school, concerned about anecdotal reports of clusters of illnesses. She expressed concern about the potential of continued long-term exposures to toxic wastes buried underneath the building.

Unfortunately, New Bedford is not the only community where schools were built on sites where toxic wastes were disposed.  Steve Fischbach, a lawyer who represented community groups challenging the siting of schools on toxic waste sites in Rhode Island and an expert on school siting policies throughout the United States, views the situation at Parker Street as part of a larger national problem. “Unfortunately, schools have been built on top of toxic waste sites all across the country,” said Steve.  “There are few laws preventing school districts from building on toxic sites, and cash-starved school districts choose to build on toxic sites because contaminated land is cheaper to acquire.” 

 The report Toxics in Massachusetts: A Town-By-Town Profile and accompanying maps was developed with support from the Boston University Superfund Research Program Outreach Core funded by the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences, using information from the US Environmental Protection Agency, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection and the MassGIS.  The maps and report are available for viewing online at www.toxicsaction.org.  

Read about us in the news here:

“Toxics Action group releases detailed report on toxic sites.” The Boston Globe. 3/25/10.

“’Historic toxic’ New Bedford is backdrop for statewide pollution report.” The Boston Herald and Massachusetts Standard Times. 3/26/10

“Group mapping toxic locations.” The Republican. 3/26/10

“New report highlights Bay State toxics: Potential health and environmental hazards.” WPRI. 3/26/10

Northampton landfill zoning change up in air: Planners make no recommendation.” Daily Hampshire Gazette. 3/26/10