NEW BEDFORD — Top brass from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) paid a visit to the Whaling City on Wednesday to recognize accomplishments made by the agency in the reduction of risks to human and environmental health in areas across the country contaminated by hazardous materials.

Acting Administrator of the EPA Andrew Wheeler and Regional Administrator Alexandra Dunn joined Mayor Jon Mitchell at the dewatering facility to celebrate the one year anniversary of the agency's Superfund Task Force Report, and to also present the 2018 update to the report.

Wheeler says he chose to celebrate the 2018 update in New Bedford as a way to also recognize the city as a “Superfund success story.”

“With over 1,300 Superfund sites across the country, some of those sites have been languishing for decades and contamination is seeping into the land and water. We owe it to the American public to get these sites cleaned up and back to use,” said Wheeler. “Today, we are proud to present the 2018 update to the Superfund Task Force Report, which highlights the numerous accomplishments achieved by EPA's hardworking employees. That work is of course in conjunction with the hardworking employees of the states and the local communities, and there's not a better Superfund example than New Bedford here today.”

New Bedford is the nation's leading commercial fishing port in terms of the dollar value of the harbor's annual catch, and like the waterways of many cities is highly contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls and other heavy metals, according to Dunn. Dunn also announced at the event that the EPA has been able to expedite the entire cleaning of New Bedford Harbor, and expects completion within five years.

“New Bedford Harbor is a resource. It's an 18,000 acre urban estuary. It has sediment highly contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls and heavy metals. In the last nine months, for example, our cleanup north of Coggeshall Street has removed over 43,000 tons of highly contaminated harbor sediment,” Dunn explained. “We have been closely with the City of New Bedford on many redevelopment options that will come as our cleanup advances into economic benefits to the community.”

Mayor Mitchell spoke of the city's frequent interactions with the EPA over the years, something he says is tied to New Bedford's industrial past. Mitchell argues that not only has New Bedford been a maritime powerhouse for generations, but it also has a history of being a center of manufacturing, leading to the vast amount of contamination in the harbor today.

“The harbor holds the dubious distinction of being America's first marine Superfund site, and we have a number of other sites across the city,” stated Mitchell. “The good news is that we're here today not to talk so much about the past, but about the present and the future. As much as New Bedford has had these challenges, New Bedford has also rolled up its sleeves in cooperation with our friends in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts DEP, but also the Environmental Protection Agency in Region 1 across presidential administrations over many years. We believe that from environmental liabilities come environmental assets.”

Wheeler, who was nominated by President Donald Trump January and confirmed as Deputy Administrator of the EPA in April, has been the acting head of the EPA for only a matter of weeks. He was named Acting Administrator after the resignation of former Administrator Scott Pruitt.

“I think this is the perfect example of the federal government, the state government, and the local government, the Mayor and his people here, working together to get a site cleaned up for reuse,” said Wheeler. “I can't think of a better example of all three levels of government working cooperatively together. I hope that we can model this in projects all across the country.”