EPA Cleanups: Communities around New Bedford Harbor
This website provides information about environmental cleanups around New Bedford Harbor. By learning about the cleanup projects and becoming more involved, you can help increase the conversations that occur between EPA and the surrounding community about the science, technical information, and environmental protection laws behind cleanup decisions. We welcome your feedback.
Why is EPA cleaning up the harbor?
As a busy commercial seaport today, New Bedford Harbor supports the surrounding communities as it did through the whaling, textile and manufacturing periods of its past. Yet despite its rich history, the environment in and around the harbor struggle from the more recent decades of electrical device production and it is among EPA's largest ongoing Superfund cleanup sites.
New Bedford Harbor is an 18,000-acre urban tidal estuary with sediment that is highly contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and heavy metals. From the 1940s until EPA banned the production of PCBs in the 1970s, two facilities involved in the manufacturing of electrical devices disposed of industrial wastes containing these man-made PCBs into the harbor. As a result, PCBs contaminate the harbor bottom in varying levels for about six miles from the Acushnet River into Buzzards Bay. The harbor was placed on EPA's National Priorities List in 1982, and continues to require significant time and funding to clean up.
After extensive environmental testing of water quality, harbor sediment, air quality and locally caught fish and shellfish, it became clear that the PCBs in the sediment posed a serious risk to human health and the environment. PCBs do not break down easily in the natural environment, and left untouched, continue to pose a risk within the local food chain.
EPA’s greatest concern is the possibility of people eating contaminated locally caught seafood. The bio-accumulation, or the build-up of PCB levels within the marine life, has resulted in restrictions on fishing, shellfishing and lobstering in and around the harbor. Restrictions will remain in place until PCB levels decrease. Annual seafood data is collected to ensure that the current restrictions protect human health. EPA continues to clean up and safely contain as much of the contaminated harbor sediment as possible.
What is being done to clean up the harbor?
2010 marked EPA's seventh season of hydraulic dredging in New Bedford Harbor. Prior to the start of the full-scale hydraulic dredging and filtration in 2004, EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers performed multiple targeted cleanup actions within the harbor and along the shoreline that removed some of the highest levels of PCB contamination, known as "Hot Spot" areas.
Just over 200,000 of the total of about 900,000 cubic yards (PDF) (1 pg, 562K) of PCB-contaminated sediment has been addressed as required by the 1998 cleanup plan. EPA has focused on a "worst first" cleanup strategy and much of the contamination that remains is lower in PCB levels than what has been removed.
The current cleanup process removes contaminated sediment from the harbor bottom by a vacuum-like network of dredges, pipelines and processing facilities. Learn more about the cleanup process.
What can I do? How can I stay informed?
It is important that the communities of New Bedford Harbor and Buzzards Bay are informed, involved, and feel confident about the safety of the cleanup projects.
- Protect your health and the health of your family by learning about EPA's latest guidance about the consumption of locally caught seafood.
- Give us your input by attending and participating in our monthly evening public meetings. These meetings are hosted jointly by the EPA and the Massachusetts DEP to provide updates on the cleanup. Follow our events calendar.
- Share this website to help inform others about the local environmental issues.
- Use this website to find out the latest news around New Bedford Harbor and as an educational resource for environmental, historical and scientific information about your environment. Can’t find what you're looking for? Contact us!
Photos and map of the Harbor Cleanup
Information about other EPA projects and programs nearby
Aerovox Mill Demolition, New Bedford, MA
The Aerovox Mill was an electronics manufacturing facility that contributed a significant amount of PCB waste that is present in New Bedford Harbor today. Located at 740 Belleville Avenue in New Bedford, Massachusetts the 450,000 sq. ft. building is on approximately 10 acres of industrial-zoned land beside the Acushnet River. From 1940 to about 1977, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) were used at the facility in the manufacture of electrical capacitors and transformers. Soil and groundwater at the site, as well as the building itself, are heavily contaminated with PCBs and other industrial chemicals.
Atlas Tack, Fairhaven, MA
The Atlas Tack facility was built in 1901 in Fairhaven, MA and historically manufactured wire tacks, steel nails, rivets, bolts, shoe eyelets and similar items. Facility operations included electroplating, acid-washing, enameling, and painting until 1985. Wastes were disposed of on the grounds, in adjacent wetlands and into an on-site lagoon. High levels of heavy metals, cyanide, PCBs, volatile organic compounds, pesticides, and other contaminants impacted area groundwater and surface waters, in addition to the site soil, sediment and portions of the former buildings.
The $21 million, two year EPA cleanup was completed in 2007 and removed about 108,129 tons of contaminated material. The upland portion of the site was backfilled and seeded, and the wetlands were restored to pre-industrial conditions with additional native freshwater wetland enhancements. The Atlas site now meets commercial/industrial cleanup standards and remains mostly private property. Although the cleanup has been completed, EPA and MassDEP continue to conduct environmental monitoring and maintenance activities. Groundwater monitoring will continue until the ecologically-based cleanup goals are met and land use restrictions will be placed on the site to help ensure that the cleanup remains protective.
Brownfields Projects and Grant Opportunities
The City of New Bedford has received over $2.9 million in EPA Brownfields funding since 1997 to assess and cleanup Brownfields properties within the City and to conduct job training programs. They have assessed over 14 properties, cleaned up four properties and have trained 79 workers.
Environmental Justice Program and Grants in New England
All residents of New England are entitled to clean air, land and water in their homes, schools, offices and outdoor environments. The EPA Region 1's (New England) Environmental Justice program works to protect all people, regardless of race, color, national origin or income, from environmental harms and risks, and to involve all citizens in making decisions that affect the environment in which they live, work and play. Minority and low-income communities are often disproportionately exposed to the impacts of pollution. EPA New England's Environmental Justice Program is designed to work to greater protect these communities.
In New Bedford, EPA Region New England's EJ program convened several meetings in late 2009 and early 2010 to provide opportunities to engage the community around environmental justice issues. As a result, New Bedford continues to be a priority community for the EJ program.
Parker Street Assessment and Cleanup, New Bedford, MA
The Parker Street Waste Site includes over 104 acres in northwestern New Bedford, Massachusetts. Through the Superfund removal program, EPA began working with the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection in 2009 to define the boundaries of the Parker Street Waste Site. In April of 2010, EPA's removal program began taking soil samples to determine the extent of contamination and to determine whether a removal action is necessary. The investigation identified hazardous substances on some properties triggering the need to remove contaminated soils. In November 2010, EPA began removing contaminated soils. Additional sampling and removal of contaminated soils is planned to begin in the spring of 2011.
Re-Solve Superfund Site, Dartmouth, MA
From 1956 to 1980, the Re-Solve, Inc., site in North Dartmouth, MA was a chemical waste reclamation facility and became a Superfund Site in 1983 after extensive PCBs and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) were discovered in the soil and groundwater. By 1998, all debris and buildings were removed, contaminated soil was treated, 1 acre of wetlands restored and a groundwater pump and treatment system was installed that continues to prevent contamination from impacting nearby residents.
Since 1988, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MassDPH) has kept a catch and release fishing advisory in effect for the nearby Cornell Pond and Copicut River due to PCBs in fish from the site. Since 1998, the surrounding community has participated in the Cornell Pond Fishing Derby, which supports EPA's annual fish monitoring program. The first twenty local fishermen to sign up compete for the biggest catch and help EPA collect samples to assess environmental progress.
13th Annual Cornell Pond Derby (PDF) (3pp, 957K)
Once a cleanup is underway at a Superfund Site, EPA requires a thorough review every 5 years to ensure the remedy is working as expected and confirm there are no new site related health concerns. Re-Solve's most recent Five Year Review was completed in 2008. (PDF) (110 pp, 6MB)
Sullivan's Ledge Landfill, New Bedford, MA
The 12-acre Sullivan's Ledge site in northwestern New Bedford operated as a quarry until about 1932. Between the 1940s and the 1970s, local industries used the quarry pits and adjacent areas for disposal of hazardous material and other wastes. After its listing as an EPA Superfund Site, contaminated soil and sediment were consolidated and capped under an impermeable cover over the old quarry site on Hatheway Road. In addition, a groundwater treatment plant was installed to reduce the migration of contaminated groundwater from the Site. Wetlands impacted by the cleanup work have been repaired. The former quarry cap and surrounding fence prevents exposure to passersby.
Current activities include the routine operation and maintenance of the groundwater treatment plant, the control of landfill gas from the site landfill, and the continued restoration of the wetlands impacted by the cleanup. Operation and maintenance of the site remedy is being conducted by the responsible parties in conjunction with the City of New Bedford under EPA oversight.
The second Five Year Review was completed in 2008. (PDF) (119 pp, 7MB)
Learn more about the Harbor
Science & Technology
How does history play a role?
Historical shipwreck uncovered by the cleanup! (PDF) (13 pp, 1.5MB, about PDF)
Recovery Act in New Bedford