CLF Report Finds Rampant Contamination in Low-Income New Bedford Neighborhoods

By ecoRI News staff

NEW BEDFORD, Mass. — The city needs to take “aggressive action” to deal with “rampant contamination in low-income neighborhoods,” according to the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF).

In August, the CLF released a report, titled New Bedford Massachusetts Environmental Justice in the Twenty-First Century, that provided a comprehensive review of the environmental and public-health challenges facing New Bedford. This “environmental justice assessment” relied on more than a year of research and input from more than two dozen residents, advocates and public officials, according to the CLF.

The 47-page report noted that the city is a national leader in renewable energy, is working to clean up hazardous wastes and is opening its waterfront to more residents. But the report also noted that New Bedford’s poorer residents are living and working near properties that were contaminated with hazardous materials during the city’s manufacturing era.

New Bedford “has extensive environmental degradation, coupled with significant numbers of low-income residents, new immigrants, and people of color, many of whom live with the legacy of those early industrial years — lead, polychlorinated biphenyls, and other contamination in their neighborhoods,” according to the report.

“When a single community has two public schools, and over 500 other sites, that are known to contain hazardous toxins, there can be no doubt that aggressive action must be taken to protect public health and safety,” said Veronica Eady, CLF vice president and the Massachusetts director. “That’s the situation facing New Bedford, where abundant pollution and a sluggish economy continue to fuel one another. This vicious cycle is particularly troubling for low-income residents and people of color, whose neighborhoods have been disproportionately plagued by these serious public health issues.

“New Bedford has made some progress over the past decade addressing the root causes of pollution and poverty, but there’s still a long way to go.”

The reported noted that New Bedford Harbor is severely polluted by polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and that there is extensive pollution at the Parker Street waste site. It also noted the issues that persist after the city built the high school and the Keith Middle School on contaminated land.

The report also examines hazardous wastes at Morse Cutting Tools and other brownfield sites; the threat of lead contamination from older homes and aging water pipes; and combined sewer overflow issues.

The CLF identified 11 action items that could be undertaken by regulators, community groups and advocacy organizations, including: asking the Environmental Protection Agency to perform a compliance review using its authority under Title VI of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964; study the impacts of cumulative exposure to the many toxics in the New Bedford environment; and improve public transportation links between the South Coast region and Greater Boston.