Lower Neponset River designated superfund site

Neponset River (Photo by Sswonk/Wikimedia Commons)

By Emily Tan
Boston University News Service

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has classified the Lower Neponset River, which runs through Milton and Boston’s Dorchester, Hyde Park and Mattapan, as a Superfund site. 

EPA Regional Administrator David Cash announced the designation last Monday at Ryan Playground in Mattapan. He was joined by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, Congressman Stephen Lynch and Mayor Michelle Wu.

“This is a win-win for the communities who value recreating on the river, families who live in the area and the wildlife that depend on it, because we now have a mechanism to address the contamination and the sediment that have plagued the river for decades,” Cash said.

The 3.7-mile stretch of the Neponset River is contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), a group of manmade chemicals known to cause adverse health impacts, including cancer and reproductive problems in animals. According to the EPA, PCBs were commercially manufactured in the United States from 1929, until their production was banned in 1979 by the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).

The pollution of the Lower Neponset River is due to former industrial activity along the river dating back to the 1930s, according to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP).

“No one should have to live, work or go to school near a contaminated site, and communities across the Massachusetts’ 7th and our country simply cannot afford to wait any longer for the protections that they deserve,” Pressley said.

The Superfund designation adds the Lower Neponset River to the National Priorities List (NPL), a record of sites known to have the most serious releases of hazardous substances throughout the country. These sites are determined by the EPA to require detailed investigation and cleanup under the Superfund program.

The classification comes after years of advocacy by community groups and lobbying by state officials. In October 2015, MassDEP requested the EPA consider adding the river to the Superfund program and last year, Gov. Charlie Baker officially endorsed the designation, given the “serious nature of the [site’s] contamination.” In September 2021, the EPA proposed adding the river to the NPL.

“The Neponset River Watershed Association, local neighborhood groups, Milton and Boston and the state have been working toward restoring the health of this stretch of the river and turning it into a nationally recognized recreational resource for many years,” said Ian Cooke, executive director of the Neponset River Watershed Association. “We look forward to working with EPA to advance this work and make the Neponset into the river our communities need and deserve.”

The Superfund designation will dedicate significant federal dollars and resources toward the river’s cleanup.

“This will not only begin the long-overdue process of undoing decades of damage, but also bring us closer to our goal and our focus of making Boston a Green New Deal city,” Wu said.

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