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Release Date: 03/02/1998
Contact Information: Alice Kaufman, EPA Press Office, (617) 918-1064

Boston - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today announced both an ambitious pollution prevention assistance effort and an intensive enforcement sweep of potential pollution sources to the Charles River in a continuing effort to meet the agency's goal of a fishable, swimmable lower Charles River by Earth Day, 2005. The first stage of the pollution prevention effort targets the nearly 1,000 auto service and repair facilities in the ten communities bordering the lower Charles. EPA will provide assistance to help these facilities improve their hazardous waste management practices and to reduce their use of solvents and other chemicals. The first stage of the enforcement sweep begins May 1, 1998. EPA has assembled a team of engineers, scientists and lawyers who have targeted nearly 200 facilities from chemical laboratories in industrial manufacturing plants to pesticide storage sheds at country clubs for compliance inspections. The enforcement effort also includes a citizen hotline for quick response action on spills.

The compliance assurance strategy - developed as part of EPA's Clean Charles 2005 Task Force - is unique in a number of ways including:

    • it is the first time EPA has combined both assistance and enforcement efforts in one coordinated approach, targeting those efforts to the protection of one particular natural resource;
    • it is the first time EPA has notified a broad universe of facilities in advance that they will be subject to aggressive inspections as of a certain date.

Beginning on May 1, 1998, the agency will begin intensive inspections of facilities in the Charles River watershed for compliance with federal laws for hazardous waste and underground storage tank management; oil spill prevention and cleanup; storm water permitting and management; and direct and indirect discharges to the river.


The enforcement strategy, coordinated with the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MA DEP), will cover facilities in all ten of the communities bordering the lower Charles. It is intended to increase compliance by business owners and others in those communities.

This week EPA will notify by letter approximately 200 facilities in the Charles River watershed of its upcoming enforcement sweep in expectation that the advance notice will encourage self auditing for compliance problems before the agency's inspectors arrive. Beginning on May 1, inspectors will be out in force. It is unprecedented that the regulated community is being given advance notice of an upcoming enforcement sweep of this magnitude.

"It is not our objective to launch an ambush. Our goal is to improve compliance, not to accumulate enforcement notches on our belt. My hope is that if these facilities are out of compliance with environmental laws, this "heads up" will motivate them to do something about it before we show up. I'll be a very happy man if when we hit the street we don't find any violations," said John P. DeVillars, EPA's New England administrator.

This enforcement sweep of activities furthers the agency's enforcement component of the Clean Charles 2005 initiative begun in 1995 to locate and cleanup pollution entering the Charles River basin. Enforcement is one part of the five point strategy the Clean Charles 2005 Task Force has adopted.

To date, EPA has issued seven administrative orders to Charles River communities to eliminate illicit hookups to municipal sewer systems that spew untreated sewage into the river when it rains heavily. As a result, 750,000 gallons per day of contaminated discharges that had been flowing to the Charles have been eliminated. In addition, in the past two years EPA has brought substantial actions against Conrail and Boston University for numerous violations that had caused oil spills to the river.

As part of its enforcement effort, EPA is also setting up a new public access, free telephone Hotline, "Report-a-Sheen, 1-800-424-8802" for citizens to report oil spills or other visible sheens observed on the river. The new number will be widely publicized along the river, at boat houses, and on kiosks. Where there are releases with obvious sources, it will provide an opportunity for a quick response to contain the spill before ecological damage can occur. When the origin of recurring discharge cannot be immediately identified, a database will be established that will point to problem areas of the river warranting closer surveillance.

Pollution Prevention

One clear threat of Charles River contamination comes from floor drains at auto repair shops that send oil and grease, along with rainwater, washing into the Charles from numerous discharge points. In a concerted education effort, EPA will be sending user-friendly materials to owners of auto service facilities in the Charles River watershed that clarifies their obligations for compliance with environmental regulations and provides easy, cost-effective ways they can be certain to comply. EPA will also host workshops and conduct numerous site visits to demonstrate low-cost technologies and plumbing alternatives so that owners can make drain improvements and take other pollution prevention steps to prevent contaminated runoff from reaching waterways.

A second target audience for the pollution prevention effort is public works directors and others grappling with storm water management at large sites such as construction sites, salvage yards, power plants, and marinas. On June 4, 1998, at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Cambridge, EPA will host a technology trade show for municipal and industrial operators of storm water control systems. Attendees will have an opportunity to view the latest technologies for addressing retrofits and to obtain information on system cost and performance.

The enforcement and compliance assistance sweep is part of a broader effort to meet fishable and swimmable goals by Earth Day 2005. Other components of the plan are:

    • CSO efforts to control sewage overflows - By June 1998, EPA and MA DEP expect to decide whether additional controls are needed at the Cottage Farm CSO treatment plant. The Massachusetts Water Resource Authority's (MWRA) CSO plan envisions allowing seven discharges which, without further controls, would leave 26 million gallons of mixed sewage and storm water flowing into the river annually. We are also negotiating with the MWRA on a schedule for a sewer separation project which would eliminate more than 99% of the 45 million gallons of mixed sewage and storm water discharges that flow each year from a CSO in the Stony Brook area to the mouth of the Muddy River;
    • Improved storm water management - EPA is requiring nine communities that border the Charles River to submit state-of-the-art storm water management plans by July 1, 1998, and to move forward in their implementation.
      Applying advanced scientific research
    • A study is underway to assess the effectiveness of chlorination treatment of CSO discharges used at the Cottage Farm treatment plant. The study will determine if chlorination is an effective tool to kill pathogens in the discharge and whether chlorination adequately protects public health. Discharges from Cottage Farm could constitute as much as 90% of the remaining CSO discharges to the river under the MWRA's CSO control plan, recently approved by EPA and MA DEP;
    • A watershed study is being undertaken to identify nutrient loadings, hypoxia levels (low dissolved oxygen) that can choke aquatic systems, the effects of saltwater intrusion, and a study of sediment contamination. It will identify the sources of pollution and recommend alternatives for cleanup.
    • A field test of new monitoring and analysis techniques for fecal coliform and other bacteria, as well as for viruses never studied before in the river, will begin this summer. New methodologies will allow for time relevant data to be incorporated into policy decisions on the safety of the river for swimming, boating and fishing.
    • The Charles River Watershed Association will conduct regular bacteria monitoring in the river and, with the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC), institute a color flag program posting flags at beaches, boat docks and landings to indicate the safety of the Charles River for boating and windsurfing.
EPA has built a broad coalition of allies in its effort to make the Charles River fishable and swimmable by earth Day 2005. Known as the Clean Charles 2005 Task Force, it is comprised of environmental advocacy groups, including the Charles River Watershed Association, Boston Harbor Associates, Save the Harbor/Save the Bay, and the Friends of the Muddy River, as well as officials from all ten communities bordering the lower Charles, and the MWRA, MA DEP, and MDC. The group meets quarterly and has formed working groups on storm water management and water quality research.