DARTMOUTH — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency plans to spend around $2.8 million to clean up five Dartmouth properties that were found to have dangerously high concentrations of hazardous chemicals.

Historical dumping in Dartmouth’s Bliss Corner neighborhood bordering New Bedford has resulted in soil contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls (known as PCBs) and lead.

That’s according to multiple reports from the state’s Department of Environmental Protection, which has been investigating the issue since 2018.

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Both pollutants are thought to cause cancer as well as a litany of other health issues in humans. Lead is a neurotoxin that can be fatal in high concentrations, while the manufacture of PCBs was banned by the EPA in 1979. 

MassDEP was first alerted to the contamination three years ago, after construction at 85 McCabe St. led to complaints of chemical smells.

Multiple rounds of soil tests in streets and residential properties found elevated levels of PCBs as well as lead in a number of neighborhood locations, with at least two properties containing soil with chemical levels described as an “imminent hazard” to human health.

After investigating the history of the area, MassDEP warned the City of New Bedford and the Town of Dartmouth this spring that both municipalities were responsible for allowing the dumping and thus could be on the hook to help with the costs of cleanup.

MassDEP requested help with sampling from the EPA in 2019. 

According to an EPA Action Memo dated Sept. 14, the two agencies conducted joint sampling in 2020 and 2021, testing a total of 74 residential properties and finding levels of contaminants exceeding safe maximum limits in 21 of them. 

Read the EPA's Bliss Corner Action Memorandum

Levels of lead high enough to warrant immediate EPA remediation were found at 20 residential properties, while one property exceeded maximum levels for PCBs.

Statewide, MassDEP's “imminent hazard” level of PCBs is 10 parts per million — but the agency created a site-specific level for Bliss Corner of 1,000 parts per million, 100 times the maximum level allowed elsewhere, according to the memo.

The EPA decided to remove soil from just five properties with the highest levels of surface contamination that pose “a threat to public health or welfare...or the environment,” the memo reads.

All five of the properties slated for decontamination are occupied.

Although other properties also exceed safety standards, the memo notes, the EPA will work with MassDEP, the Town of Dartmouth, “and any other responsible parties” to address them.

According to a detailed action plan outlined in the memo, the federal agency will remove either three feet of soil or keep going until it reaches soil with acceptable levels of contamination, then restore the properties with clean fill.

Polluted soil will be taken to an approved facility for disposal.

The project will start “as soon as possible” after the action plan is approved, the memo noted, with an estimated total cost of $2.8 million.

Dartmouth Town Administrator Shawn MacInnes noted in a statement announcing the EPA plan that MassDEP will evaluate options for the other properties, adding that the town continues to work with both agencies on the issue.

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