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2002 News Releases


EPA Begins Archeological Survey at New Bedford Harbor Superfund Site

Release Date: 10/29/2002
Contact Information: Alice Kaufman, EPA Press Office, 617-918-1064 Stacy Greendlinger, Community Involvement, 617-918-1403

BOSTON - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah), and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers this week will begin an extensive archeological survey of an 18-acre area to determine whether there are historical and cultural resources in an area slated for cleanup as part of the New Bedford Harbor Superfund site. The work should be complete this fall. Earlier archeological studies of a 30-acre area revealed the presence of some Native American artifacts.

"While our principle mission is to cleanup dirty sites and return them to productive use, we want to do that considering all the historical, social, and cultural interests that may be involved," said Robert W. Varney, EPA New England regional administrator. "We have been working closely with the Tribe and other agencies, and will continue to do so throughout this project."

The Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) Tribal Historic Preservation Office has been working to insure the cultural resources of the Wampanoag people have been protected through the consultation process with the many departments of the U.S. Government and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts," stated Laurie Perry, Tribal Historic Preservation Officer. "Cooperation in preserving our historical sites and its culture is a testimony to the relationship that has been achieved by the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah), federal, and state agencies working together."

"The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is committed to respecting Tribal views and concerns as to the management and preservation of tribally important sites or locations in New Bedford while completing the environmental remediation of the Acushnet River and environs," stated William Scully, Deputy District Engineer for Project Management. "The Corps looks forward to continuing to work closely with the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) throughout the remainder of this project and in future endeavors."

Approximately 18 acres will be surveyed by a team of archeologists. EPA had previously provided $21,000 in funding to the Tribe for an oral history interview study to identify culturally sensitive areas in the cleanup area. The study completed in the summer of 2001 uncovered fragments of pottery, stone tools, and arrow heads, but none from the current Wood Street cleanup area. All discovered artifacts will be cleaned catalogued, and fully analyzed.

A Memorandum of Understanding between the agencies and the Tribe guides the efforts to protect cultural or religious significant properties discovered during the cleanup of the New Bedford Harbor Superfund site.

The New Bedford Harbor Superfund cleanup plan calls for the dredging, dewatering and off-site disposal of approximately 200 acres of contaminated sediments and wetlands. EPA expects to construct three shoreline confined disposal facilities to permanently contain some of the contaminated sediment as well. Construction of the waterfront bulkheads for the dewatering facility is underway and dredging of the harbor is scheduled to begin in 2004.

The New Bedford Harbor Superfund Site encompasses all of New Bedford Harbor and parts of Buzzards Bay. The harbor was contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), the result of past waste disposal practices at two electrical component manufacturing plants. PCB wastes were discharged directly into the harbor as well as indirectly through the city's sewer system.

Fish and lobster from New Bedford Harbor and the Acushnet River Estuary contain high levels of PCBs which can cause illness if eaten regularly. Since 1979, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health has issued restrictions on fishing and lobstering based on health risks from eating fish and lobster from the 18,000 acre New Bedford Harbor and the Acushnet River Estuary. EPA added the harbor to its National Priorities List (commonly known as the Superfund) in 1983, making the site eligible for federal Superfund cleanup money.

"I want to remind people who fish in the area not to eat the fish or lobster caught from these waters," said Robert W. Varney, EPA New England regional administrator. Varney said that the single biggest risk to a person's health from the site is from consumption of PCB-contaminated seafood.