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Release Date: 09/06/1996
Contact Information: Ken Moraff, EPA Regional Administrator's Office (617) 565-3741 Te Leone, DEP Public Affairs Office (617) 292-5845 Bob Zimmerman, CRWA (617) 965-5975

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), along with the Charles River Watershed Association (CRWA), today warned of serious bacterial contamination in the Charles River in Milford, MA, and urged the public to avoid contact with river water in the affected area.

EPA has been investigating sources of pollution to the Charles River in Milford. EPA believes that the contamination may be caused by unlawful discharges of sewage into storm water pipes which drain to the river. EPA has asked Milford to take steps to identify the source of those discharges.

In the past few days, new sampling by CRWA revealed higher levels of contamination than had previously been found. These new results triggered today's warning by EPA, DEP, and CRWA.

"EPA has been working cooperatively with the Town of Milford to find the source of the contamination," said John DeVillars, administrator of EPA's New England office. "Today's announcement underscores the urgency of the problem. The Charles River should be fishable and swimmable for its entire length. This kind of abuse of our natural resources is simply unacceptable. And this is a reminder that, while we have made notable progress toward our goal of a swimmable and fishable Charles River by Earth Day, 2005, we still have a long road ahead of us."

The recent samples showed high counts of fecal coliform bacteria in river water. While these bacteria are not harmful by themselves, the levels found by CRWA suggest that human sewage is present in the water. Contact with sewage can cause a variety of bacterial and viral diseases. The public should therefore avoid activities such as wading or fishing, in which the skin might come into contact with water from the river.

EPA has undertaken a major initiative to make the Lower Charles River--which suffers from chronic bacterial contamination--fishable and swimmable by Earth Day, 2005. While water quality in the upper stretches of the Charles is generally good, the Milford area has been a notable exception.

CRWA conducts an extensive river monitoring program. The latest sampling in Milford revealed bacterial counts from 7,000 to over 200,000 colonies per 100 milliliters in the area of the river near Central Street. The state standard for swimmable water is 200 colonies per 100 milliliters; the boating standard is 1000 colonies. Samples analyzed by Milford during the same period showed that bacterial levels had dropped sharply, to 493 colonies, roughly a mile downstream.

"CRWA is concerned about the protection of public safety, and in resolving the infrastructure problems that cause this pollution problem," said Bob Zimmerman, Executive Director of the CRWA. "We will continue to monitor the situation, and will work with EPA and the Town of Milford to resolve it."

"In this day and age it's an outrage that there should be what amounts to raw sewage flowing into any of our waterways," said Massachusetts Environmental Affairs Secretary Trudy Coxe. "Whatever the source, we need to get to the bottom of it and make it stop."

"This points out the crucial role that citizens play in helping us to detect problems in our rivers and streams," said Arleen O'Donnell, Assistant Commissioner for Resource Protection of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection. "And our new focus on conducting comprehensive assessments of the state's 27 major watersheds on a regular basis will make it easier for us to target our resources effectively to correct the problems."