Boston Harbor Clean Up Comes Full Circle with New Grant for the Lower Mystic

Rafael Mares | @RafaelMares2

met-lower-mysticDespite a long history of industrial pollution, the Lower Mystic continues to be fished by local residents. Although there is a fish advisory upstream, which suggests that fishermen catch and release only, the Lower Mystic doesn’t have its own fish advisory. Rather it falls under the general fish advisory for the Boston Harbor. However, contaminated sediment, combined with significant ongoing water pollution from sewage overflows and stormwater, raises serious doubt whether the Boston Harbor fish advisory, which was based on sampling in Quincy Bay and has not been updated since 1988, is adequate for this area. What this means is that residents can continue to fish in the Lower Mystic, although they lack the necessary information to determine whether or not the fish they catch are safe to eat.

Now, with the help of a grant from the Massachusetts Environmental Trust (MET), CLF and its partners—Chelsea Collaborative, Mystic River Watershed Association, Neighborhood of Affordable Housing (NOAH), and the University of Massachusetts Boston (UMass-Boston)—will be able to work with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MDPH) to develop and provide clear, useful, and necessary public information that will help people to safely catch and consume fish from the waters in the Lower Mystic.

We suspect that a lack of specific, accurate, and reliable information for the residents of the Lower Mystic has likely resulted both in consumption of fish that is unsafe for human health and an overall underutilization of a valuable river resource. With this grant, we are excited to work closely with MDPH to improve this situation and provide clear guidance to the communities of the Mystic River and visitors in the form of an easy to read fish advisory.

As part of the grant, CLF and its partners will survey anglers about the current use of the Lower Mystic for fishing, develop an estimate of current consumption, conduct spot sampling of fish to help MDPH obtain the information it needs to assess the risks, and, if appropriate, seek issuance of a fish advisory specific for the area. CLF will also help MDPH in developing a user-friendly fish advisory and advocate for its translation into all languages spoken in the area.

Interestingly, it was CLF’s work to stop pollution of Boston Harbor that helped to establish the Massachusetts Environmental Trust. As part of the 1988 settlement of CLF’s and the federal government’s lawsuits which required the state to clean up Boston Harbor, the state legislature also established MET, which was initially funded with $2 million dollars.

Today, funding for MET is generated by proceeds from the sale of special environmental license plates. There are currently some 50,000 drivers with MET plates, generating roughly $1,000,000 annually for environmental projects. In addition, the trust continues to receive funding through settlements, judgments, civil actions, and administrative consent orders.

license-plate-lower-mystic

License plates like this one help fund MET.

The Lower Mystic is the part of the Mystic River Watershed closest to Boston Harbor. The watershed includes eight of the twenty most environmentally overburdened communities in Massachusetts. The environmental hazards in the Lower Mystic communities of Chelsea, Everett, East Boston alone include hazardous waste sites, landfills, transfer stations, incinerators, polluting industrial facilities, and power plants. The Mystic also has more parking lots, buildings, industrial sites and less green space than any other watershed in the Commonwealth. Residents of the Lower Mystic also have limited access to the waterfront.

CLF and its partners believe that, while we need to continue to work on addressing these environmental problems, it is also crucial that the access to the water that does exist is as beneficial and safe of a resource as it can be. A fish advisory for the Lower Mystic will go a long way toward helping us reach that goal. We’ll keep you posted on our progress.

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