MWRA failing to protect water quality in Boston Harbor, lawsuit says

The Massachusetts Water Resources Authority has repeatedly failed to enforce requirements that industrial facilities pretreat wastewater containing high levels of cyanide, lead, mercury and other toxic substances that was ultimately discharged into the harbor of Boston and Massachusetts Bay, according to a federal lawsuit filed Wednesday.

The Conservation Law Foundation alleges that the agency failed to enforce these requirements more than 200 times, allowing large amounts of toxic sewage to be pumped into Massachusetts Bay from the Deer Island treatment plant in the MWRA.

“The MWRA plays a vital role in keeping our local waters clean and safe, but the data reveals significant issues in how it responds to dangerous levels of pollution,” said Heather Govern, vice president. air and water quality at CLF. “When the agency doesn’t do its job, toxic industrial pollution-laden wastewater threatens the decades of progress we’ve made in cleaning up Boston Harbor.”

The foundation alleges that some of the roughly 5,000 hospitals, manufacturers and other industrial facilities that send sewage to Deer Island have routinely violated federal laws. limits on a range of pollutants, including copper, cadmium, chromium, nickel and zinc.

These pollutants, when not properly treated, can harm human health as well as water quality, fish and wider marine ecosystems, according to the foundation.

Agency officials said they rigorously monitor wastewater from industrial facilities.

“The MWRA is proud of the work it has done (and continues to do) to keep Boston Harbor and Massachusetts Bay clean and can only assume that the CLF’s allegations are based on a misunderstanding of the workings of the programme,” said Ria Convery, spokesperson for the MWRA. said in a statement.

She noted that the MWRA has worked closely over the years with the foundation, which has often sued state and federal agencies in its efforts to clean up Boston Harbor.

“It is unfortunate that CLF has apparently chosen to abandon this cooperative approach and file this new complaint, ignoring MWRA’s offer to answer CLF’s questions and work together to allow CLF to better understand how the program of MWRA pre-treatment is effective,” she said.

She described the agency’s pretreatment program as a “model for other programs across the country,” noting that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has credited its inspection, permitting and sampling of wastewater it receives from industrial facilities.

Convery said the Deer Island processing plant has had no discharge permit violations for more than 15 years.

“Boston Harbor has never been cleaner, and ongoing monitoring shows there have been no adverse effects on Massachusetts Bay,” she said.

Foundation attorneys, however, said there were significant gaps in the information they received from the agency. They said they expect to find more violations once the MWRA provides all the information requested by the foundation.

“Unfortunately, discussions with the MWRA since the notice of intent to sue was sent have not alleviated CLF’s concerns that there are serious issues with the MWRA’s enforcement program,” a Govern said.

The lawsuit alleges that since 2017, the MWRA has taken no enforcement action in response to 70 violations of pretreatment requirements by “significant” industrial users.

Of 123 cases of “significant non-compliance” between 2017 and 2021, the MWRA issued only 40 notices to offenders, violating their requirements, the lawsuit alleges. During that time, the agency also failed to escalate enforcement for violations repeated at least 46 times and collected less than $200,000 in fines.

The agency also failed to report the violations to the EPA, according to the lawsuit.

“Failure to include information in [its required reports on industrial waste] makes it impossible for the EPA or the public to verify that the MWRA has complied with enforcement requirements, the foundation alleged.

Such breaches, they further alleged, “are representative of the normal practices and operations of the MWRA and are evidence of a tendency and practice of not taking enforcement action” against users. non-compliant manufacturers.

The foundation asked the court to fine the agency more than $50,000 a day per violation until it proves it is in compliance with federal law requirements. Clean Water Act.


David Abel can be contacted at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @davabel.

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