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Quincy DPW responds to reported river pollution

Posted by Jessica Bartlett  October 28, 2011 03:53 PM

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A photo of what Laura Innis described as "pollution" on the Town River. (Photo courtesy of Laura Innis)

After numerous reports of pollution in the Town River, and after half a dozen investigations from local and state agencies, the Department of Public Works is taking increased precautions to ensure that the city is following all environmental procedures.

It all started when a report was filed with the Quincy Police in August of pollutants in the Town River water.

According to a later report to the Mayor’s Office from Quincy Police Department Marine Unit Lieutenant Robert Gillan, police responded to the Town River Yacht Club in August on report of a large sheen of oil and a strong chemical odor.

The sheen was visible between the Yacht Club and the Captain’s Cove Marina, and the US Coast Guard Sector Boston and a Coast Guard Pollution Investigator were called to help identify the source.

Gillan wrote that the pollution appeared to be a cleaning solvent more than lubricating or fuel oil. Its source was most likely an intentional discharge of hazardous material into a city rainwater drainage sewer by a commercial source, he said.

Regardless of where it came from, Gillan said the DPW yard was not responsible.

“Due to the time of high tide and prevailing currents, the Coast Guard Inspector and I eliminated Sprague Oil and the Quincy DPW as possible sources of the pollutant on the water,” the report says.

Yet it’s an incident that has caused much commotion in the city, especially as the event happened at the same time as the Capital Improvement Plan’s catch basin cleaning.

In the aftermath, numerous other pollution reports have sprung up, citing a brown sheen over the water, and rumors abounded that the DWP was dumping raw sewage into the river.

Unlike the first pollution report, the subsequent reports of pollution turned out to be false alarms – as any “pollution” was found to be organic in nature and appearance.

“Some of the foliage as it starts breaking down will kick off microbes. The ocean is a living organism and it outcasts lots of mud on its own. It’s gross, but it's part of the ecosystem,” Gillan said.

Additional reports to the MWRA and MassDEP pointing to the DPW Yard as the source of the pollutants also turned out to be false.

“Earlier last week I was informed that both the Mass Environmental Police and the Mass Department of Environmental Protection checked the DPW and Marsh Restoration Sites and found no evidence that either site is a source for the pollution that is being reported,” Gillan wrote.

In response, the DPW has begun to meticulously document the catch basin cleaning to ensure that the pollution finger cannot be pointed at the department.

“I have Woodward and Curran have taken a picture of every vehicle that dumps catch basin material in the back. They take a picture, document it, and [turn in] weekly reports,” DPW Commissioner Daniel Raymondi said. “It’s a matter that we’ve been dealing with for three months… There are rumors circulating that have been proven untrue and false. Every state entity and the police and fire department [has investigated this], and nothing has been founded.”

Yet it’s still not enough for some residents, who say there is too much suspicious activity in the area for the pollution to simply be organic.

“I've lived here for seven years and there was a noticeable change,” said Laura Innis, a Quincy resident.

Innis pointed to the initial MWRA investigation to the DPW yard, that while it did not find any pollution directly into the water, noted numerous other problems.

According to the report written by Bill Lazaris with the MWRA, the agency found “an open Hazardous Waste Building and noted unlabeled drums, different types of chemicals mixed together, open chemical containers, a pail of unidentified water with gunk in it, batteries, electronics parts, etc, all located on a dirty floor without any containment berms.”

The marsh is located 15 feet behind this building, the report said.

“After we determined that there was no access to the sanitary sewer system, I told [the foreman] that the state of this site did not involve MWRA regulations. However I told [him] that the MassDEP would probably be interested in inspecting this location,” the report said.

According to Raymondi, the incident was handled internally before MassDEP became involved, and the problems were minimal.

“The new person in charge is well educated in what he needs to do and we will continue that process, but that was a minor event and situation,” Raymondi said.
“Unfortunately people come by and drop off hazardous material…and we have an obligation to process it, and we will do that properly, but the allegations that we were responsible for the movement of raw sewage into the town river isn’t happening,” Raymondi said.

As for any change in appearance, Gillan said he would be checking with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of Massachusetts Marine Sciences Division to see if this type of organic pollution is natural and/or seasonal for this area.

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