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Release Date: 10/07/1997
Contact Information: Alice Kaufman, EPA Press Office, (617) 918-1064 Evening: (508) 369-7140

Boston- Marine researchers from the New England office of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and other environmental and research agencies returned to Gloucester State Pier on Tuesday after five days at sea where they were surveying the Boston Lightship Dumping Area in Massachusetts Bay for industrial waste containers disposed of decades ago. Using a remotely operated vehicle equipped with a radiation spectrometer to measure radioactivity and underwater video technology, and a two-person submersible vessel called the Clelia, the scientists went to ten areas in Massachusetts Bay. The researchers found no evidence of industrial waste containers in the Boston Lightship Dumping Area from their preliminary investigation of the targeted dumping grounds, 12 miles east of Boston. Attached to the Clelia is a laser line scan device that can transmit photograph-like optical images of the ocean bottom to a computer on board ship. Based on preliminary results of limited sampling of the Lightship area, scientists found no levels of gamma radioactivity above background levels in the marine environment.

"This study adds a few more pieces to a very complex puzzle," said John P. DeVillars, EPA's New England administrator. "The new technology allowed us to view a 300 foot sweep of ocean from where the submarine was stationed, and we found no industrial waste containers. We still have an interest in studying a shallower area of the bay where fishermen have said they have re-dumped containers brought up while trawling. Plans are underway to design another ocean study for next year to include this area known as Flat Ledge."

During the five-day trip, the team made eleven dives in specific locations of the Boston Lightship Dumping Area. Dive locations were determined using earlier side scan sonar data that had been synthesized and prioritized based on likelihood of finding industrial barrels or other man-made objects. Most of dives were in areas designated or permitted for industrial and radioactive waste disposal in the 1950s.

The more sophisticated imagery equipment used during this excursion identified a number of rocks and lobster traps where the earlier scan data had shown objects in the area.

The team also made two dives in the Industrial Waste Site, where waste barrels were previously identified. During those dives, barrels were identified and tested with the radiation spectrometer. Preliminary results of a limited number of samples in this area of Massachusetts Bay indicated no radioactivity above background level near the barrels.

Massachusetts Bay, an oceanic coastal embayment east of Boston Harbor, has been a depository for a variety of wastes for much of this century. In particular, the disposal of industrial/chemical wastes during the mid-1940's through the mid-1970's and low level radioactive wastes during the 1940's and 50's was permitted at a number of sites throughout the bay. Most noteworthy is the so-called "Industrial Waste Site" (IWS) located 20 miles east of Boston in 300 ft. of water. A number of other sites may have also been used, some of which were cited in the various disposal permits including the former Boston Lightship Dump Site which is located approximately 12 miles east of Boston in 150-250 feet of water.

The survey was conducted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) , the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (COE), U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Navy - Office of Naval Research, the University of Connecticut National Undersea Research Center, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, and the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries. Also assisting were: Raytheon Electronic Systems, Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution, Bechtel Nevada, and Marine Sonic Technologies Ltd.