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Underwater Capping Pilot Study in New Bedford Harbor Underway

Release Date: 07/08/2005
Contact Information:

Contact: David Deegan (, EPA Office of Public Affairs, (617) 918-1017

For Immediate Release: July 8, 2005; Release # dd050703

BOSTON -- EPA is utilizing an innovative approach in New Bedford Harbor to contain PCB-laden sediment with clean sand taken from uncontaminated dredged sites in the area. The Underwater Capping Pilot Study is currently taking place near the shore of the Cornell-Dubilier mill. The last loads of clean sand will be placed on the PCB-contaminated sediment by the end of July 2005.

The pilot utilizes an innovative, collaborative approach, by taking clean sand from the City of New Bedford's ongoing navigational dredging projects to create an underwater barrier cap covering and containing existing PCB-contaminated sediment. EPA will monitor the physical, chemical and biological quality of the underwater cap annually to ensure it is working as expected.

"Clean sand from the City's navigational dredging is being put to beneficial use, instead of simply disposing it at sea at an approved disposal site," said Robert W. Varney, regional administrator for EPA's New England office. "This is helping to protect the people of New Bedford as well as the local ecosystem."

As a significant benefit, the pilot capping study is greatly accelerating the PCB cleanup in the outer harbor. Because the outer harbor's contamination levels are significantly lower than the upper harbor, it likely would be the last area dredged. Given the uncertainty of the harbor PCB cleanup budget, it is likely that contaminated sediment near the Cornell-Dubilier mill would not be addressed for many years.

The New Bedford Harbor Superfund site includes all of New Bedford Harbor and parts of the Acushnet River and Buzzards Bay. The harbor was contaminated with PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), the result of past waste disposal practices at two capacitor manufacturing plants, one on the Acushnet River, the second on the outer harbor. PCB wastes were discharged directly into the harbor, as well as indirectly through the city’s sewer system. EPA added the harbor to its National Priorities List (known as the Superfund list) in 1983, making the site eligible for federal Superfund cleanup money.

EPA has spent more than $189 million in planning, engineering and construction costs for the harbor cleanup. Approximately 30 acres of high priority areas have been cleaned up to date and the remaining 240 acres of contaminated sediment, including surrounding wetlands and residential properties, will be processed at the new 5-acre dewatering facility in the harbor’s North Terminal. An estimated 880,000 cubic yards of sediments are slated to be removed, roughly equivalent to 175 football fields each filled three feet deep.

Fish, lobster, quahog and other seafood from New Bedford Harbor and the Acushnet River contain high levels of PCBs, which can cause illness if eaten regularly. In 1979, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health issued restrictions on fishing and lobstering based on health risks from eating fish and lobster from the 18,000-acre New Bedford Harbor and Acushnet River estuary.

For more information about EPA's efforts to clean the New Bedford site, see: .

For more information on PCBs, see: .

Related Information:
New Bedford Harbor Site