At long last, the remediation of PCB contamination in New Bedford Harbor is nearing completion.

City of New Bedford Public Information Officer Jonathan Darling says, "We are very confident the cleanup will be done this year."

The Environmental Protection Agency has spent $1 billion over 40 years cleaning up industrial waste that for decades was dumped into the Acushnet River. The result was a dangerous toxic mess that landed the harbor on the EPA's Superfund priority list decades ago.

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I recall then-Mayor John A. Markey around 1980 telling me that no one knew what to do about the situation. Markey said experts feared a possible explosion if the sediments were disturbed.

The EPA says, "The 18,000-acre New Bedford site is an urban tidal estuary with sediments which are highly contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and heavy metals."

PCBs are carcinogens that attack the brain and reproductive system.

The agency says, "At least two manufacturers in the area used PCBs while producing electric devices from the 1940s to the late 1970s." The companies discharged "industrial wastes containing PCBs directly into the harbor and indirectly through the city sewer system."

The EPA banned the manufacture of PCBs in the late 1970s.

Three of the four phases of the cleanup process, begun in 1994, are complete. The final phase is scheduled for completion this year.

New Bedford Harbor Cleanup "Will Be Done This Year"
Barry Richard/Townsquare Media

"Cleanup and finishing up of the EPA-leased facility on Sawyer Street, where they run their operations for the cleanup and where they store some contaminants, won't be done until 2025, but the actual harbor should be done this year," Darling said.

"For decades, the contamination of New Bedford Harbor has been an environmental blight on our region and has hindered investment in the Port of New Bedford," Mayor Jon Mitchell said.

"Finishing this cleanup will pave the way for more maritime investment and jobs in the Port, and open up recreational opportunities for our residents, especially in the near North End," Mitchell said.

Some say fish caught in the harbor will be unsafe for human consumption for many years.

New Bedford Mayors

New Bedford has had 49 different mayors, along with two acting mayors and one interim mayor.

Gallery Credit: Tim Weisberg

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