History of Pollution in New Bedford
New Bedford experiences extensive environmental degradation alongside the high poverty levels of residents, many immigrants and people of color whose immigration history can be dated back to the early industrial years. The first white settlers relied on small-scale farming until 1700s when its economy shifted to industries including whaling, whale oil and soap processing, and ship building (Voyer et al., 1995). Since then New Bedford has experienced tremendous industrialization that has fuelled its economy. However, over time these industries have been emitting into the environment harmful substances such as oils, lead, arsenic, cyanide, biological wastes, and toxic hydrocarbons.
The development of the whaling industry in the New Bedford was majorly contributed by the launching of the Pennsylavania oils rush in the late 1850s and oil discovery in Titsuville, PA. Besides, in 1848 the first textile mill was started in the New Bedford and with time the industry experienced remarkable growth to over 70 textile mills which attracted local settlements bear the mills (Voyer et al., 1995). Due to the Great Depression’s impact in 1929, the New Bedford community was not exception form other regions in the USA and it witnessed exponential unemployment rates. Later in 1939, the first electronic capacitors manufacturing company, Aerovox Corporation was established (Voyer et al., 1995). Many other electronic manufacturing companies and business were started later. Due to the high unemployment rates coupled with significant population growth, many people settled near the industrial facilities bringing about another environmental threat, polychlorinated Biphenyles (PCBs).
PCBs are toxic organic chemical organs that are persistent and non-biodegradable. When ingested, PCBs contaminates the body by attacking the nervous and reproductive systems and may lead to cancer (Toxicological Profile, 2020). PCBS were used in manufacturing and operating various electrical equipment including capacitors, transformers, switches, and fluorescent light ballasts among other uses. PCBs are more ubiquitous in the New Bedford because of the many electronic industries in early and mid-1900s until its ban in 1979 by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) (New Bedford EJ Assessment Report, 2016). Besides, the New Bedford Harbor Superfund site which is one of the biggest and most extensive PCB contamination site in the United States of America.
Lead exposure and waste water are other significant environmental threats in the New Bedford. Lead is toxic when ingested and was mostly used in gasoline and house paints until it was banned in the 1970s. However, most of the houses in the New Bedford are fairly old dating back the pre-1978 before their ban, hence they still pose health hazards to the residents especially children due to the sweet taste of lead paints (New Bedford EJ Assessment Report, 2016). According to the CDC (2000), exposure to lead causes worse health problems such as damage to the brain and the nervous system, and may as well lead to death. Furthermore, waste water is an environmental menace in the New Bedford due to the high rate of industrial discharges and combined sewer overflow (CSO).
What Has Been Done in the Past and Reference Organizations?
EPA listed New Bedford Harbor in its National Priorities List in 1983 designating the site a Superfund site. This led to a rash of litigation measures and funding from both federal and state governments that amounted to over 365 million dollars. The funds were used in various projects meant to clean up the New Bedford Harbor Super Site. Besides, community advocacy efforts have played crucial roles in advocating for effective remediation strategies that prioritizes the residents’ health and wellbeing (New Bedford EJ Assessment Report, 2016). Furthermore, HARC, “Hands Across the River Coalition” advocacy group was established in the late 20th Century and the immediate residents’ health and education. HARC’s pressure forced EPA to abandon the onsite PCB incinerator construction project in 1995. In 2004, hydraulic dredging project was initiated by EPA in the New Bedford harbor that dewatered and transported the PCB-rich sediment into an external licensed PB landfill.
Moreover, the EPA implemented the Lead and Copper rule in the New Bedford that ensured all the drinking water from suppliers does not exceed the recommended levels of the pollutants. The measure ensured that all homesteads in the New Bedford City regularly tested their drinking water for elevated lead levels (Bosco, n.d.). Schools in the New Redford are more vulnerable to high lead levels due to the long periods that the water stays in the pipes enhancing the leaching of lead in the stagnant waters. Due to the residents’ pressure and the direction of EPA, the New Bedford is now taking regular preliminary lead tests on drinking water in all public schools.
Also, in support of the New Bedford’s initiative, the Massachusetts Clean Water Trust is providing two million dollars to facilitate lead testing of drinking water in all Massachusetts’ public schools. Besides, in 1996, the New Bedford constructed a new waste water treatment plan as required by the national waste water standards and the federal Clean Water Act (New Bedford EJ Assessment Report, 2016). Furthermore, there is an ongoing Coggeshall Street Sewer Project that is meant to detach the New Bedford’s sewer conduits from the storm water drains to reduce CSOs.
Recommended System-level Changes
The civil society in the New Bedford including concerned residents, environmental advocacy organizations, and community-based organizations should work together to define measures, mobilize and ensure that that the New Bedford is free from environmental pollution threats. Positive and trustworthy relationships should built and maintained between regulators and environmental community groups to ensure success of environmental preservation strategies. The government including governmental organizations such as the Environmental Protection Agency EPA and private organizations should also increase funding to facilitate the various environmental preservation measures. Besides, EPA and other state agencies as well as federal and state regulatory bodies should implement a viable problem-solving strategy that utilizes both inter-programmatic and inter-agency teams. This will enhance successful undertaking of comprehensive environmental investigations and ensure the implementation of broad-based solutions to the pollution menace in the New Bedford.
The Massachusetts Department of Public health should further enhance their investigative measures of drinking water lead testing in all public schools in the New Bedford and put in appropriate measures to ensure the general public is safe from lead pollution. Also, state-wide and the local New Bedford officials should cooperate with community groups in conducting surveys to ensure the fish sold to the public are safe for consumption. The New Bedford administration, regulatory agencies, and researchers should study and address the cumulative and synergetic impacts caused by the interaction of various pollutants. Besides, school siting legislation should be advocated for and implemented in the New Bedford to ensure no public schools are built near contaminated regions. The concerned governments should also put in place measures to eliminate Combined Sewer overflows CSOs as well as implement an online system for tracking properties served by lead piping and develop a systematic aproach for lead testing.
List of Organizations Providing Assistance in the New Bedford and their Roles
- The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)-Provide funding for addressing the diseases caused by lead pollution and other wastes as well as implemented and monitors the bio-monitoring project for testing the levels of toxic pollutants in the residents’ body.
- The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-Provides funding and develops measures and strategies for effective addressing of environmental pollution in the New Bedford.
- The South East Environmental Education Agency (SEEA)-Promotes environmental stewardship awareness.
- CLEAN-Advocates for environmental justice ordinance in the New Bedford City.
- The National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC)-Provides a forum for environmental activists to share ideas and formulate environmental advocacy strategies.
- Hands Across the River Coalition (HARC)-Concerned with environmental community advocacy with a priority on the health and education of the New Bedford residents.
- The Massachusetts Public Health Department (MPHD)-Undertakes environmental health studies, funds environmental projects and implements projects for ensuring a clean and pollution-free New Bedford.
- The Massachusetts Clean Water Trust (MCWT)-Funds environmental projects in the New Bedford such as lead testing in Massachusetts public schools.
The New Bedford’s extensive environmental degradation is contributed by waste mismanagement, lead exposure, combined sewer overflows, and polychlorinated Biphenyles. Besides, the extensive industrialization since the 1700s that saw increased numbers of industries including electronics manufacturing industries worsened the New Bedford’s environmental situation by increasing exposure to pollutants such as lead and PCBs. The high unemployment combined with poverty levels attracted more settlements near industries which worsened the impacts of environmental pollution. Both the local, state-wide and national governments and non-governmental organizations have taken stringent measures to clean the New Bedford and address the impacts of environmental pollution through funding among other strategies. Lastly, adequate funding, cooperation between governments and non-governmental organizations, a comprehensive problem-solving model, and safe fish consumption as well as advocating for school siting legislation and elimination of CSOs are the recommended system-level changes for the New Bedford.
Voyer, R. A., Pesch, C., Garber, J., Cabral, S., Copeland, J., & Comeleo, R. (1995). History of New Bedford Harbor: Ecological consequences of urbanization and implications for remediation (No. CONF-9511137-). Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, Pensacola, FL (United States).
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (2000). Toxicological Profile for Polychlorinated Biphenyls. Retrieved from https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxprofiles/tp17.pdf
Fatal pediatric lead poisoning — New Hampshire, 2000. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5022a1.htm
New Bedford Environmental Justice Assessment Report (2016). New Bedford Massachusetts, Environmental Justice in the 21st Century. Retrieved from https://www.clf.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/New-Bedford-EJ-Assessment-2016.pdf
Bosco, E. (n.d.). Fight to keep New Bedford’s water safe ongoing, but no testing in multifamily homes leaves big question mark. Retrieved from https://www.southcoasttoday.com/article/20160319/NEWS/160319377