Polluted Runoff Threatening Boston-Area Rivers

CLF, CRWA to sue EPA for failure to address stormwater pollution

A toxic algae outbreak

July 14, 2022 (BOSTON, MA) – Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) and Charles River Watershed Association (CRWA) have notified the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of their intent to sue to protect three Boston-area rivers from polluted runoff. The Charles, Mystic, and Neponset Rivers are all harmed by stormwater runoff from industrial and commercial properties, and the EPA has ignored calls from the two groups to regulate this pollution.

“Every time it rains, a toxic stew is running into three of the area’s most iconic rivers,” said Caitlin Peale Sloan, Vice President of CLF Massachusetts. “We’ve repeatedly asked the EPA to clean up this pollution, but our pleas have fallen on deaf ears. It’s time for the agency to hold these large properties accountable for the constant damage they’re doing to our cherished rivers.”

Stormwater runoff from commercial and industrial properties with lots of paved surfaces, like big box stores, strip malls, private universities, and major apartment complexes, is not currently regulated by EPA. However, these properties contribute a disproportionate amount of polluted runoff to nearby rivers. EPA must act to formally bring these types of polluters into a regulatory program, but it has so far failed to do so.

“As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, EPA should be using all of the tools it has available to protect our rivers,” said Emily Norton, Executive Director of CRWA. “We are disappointed that EPA has so far failed to take necessary steps to curb stormwater pollution, which is one of the biggest challenges to restoring water quality in the Charles and is only worsening in the era of climate change.”

EPA’s failure to regulate these polluters has resulted in toxic algae blooms on all three rivers in the warmer months, which make people and pets sick, and put our favorite activities like boating and kayaking at risk. The blooms also degrade water quality and harm the wildlife that call the rivers home.

CLF and CWRA previously petitioned the EPA to regulate properties along the Charles, Mystic, and Neponset Rivers, but the agency has failed to act.

Experts are available for further comment.