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Release Date: 02/04/1998
Contact Information: Alice Kaufman, EPA Press Office, (617) 918-1064 or Rick Lombardi, DEP Press Office, (617) 292-5845

Boston - The New England office of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) today outlined the details of the toughest and most aggressive discharge permit ever written for a secondary sewage treatment plant in the United States. The joint draft permit limits pollutants in wastewater discharged into Massachusetts Bay through the 9.5 mile outfall tunnel constructed as part of the new Deer Island wastewater treatment plant. The permit sets stringent restrictions on pollutants to be discharged through the tunnel and the 55 discharge points along the last 1.2 miles of its length, ensuring the protection of water quality of Massachusetts Bay. The Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) is constructing a multibillion dollar sewage treatment facility on Deer Island in Boston Harbor. This facility, which treats wastewater from 43 cities and towns in the Greater Boston area, is scheduled for completion in 1999 and is already in partial operation.

Included in the permit is a detailed Outfall Monitoring Plan and a first-ever permit requirement for the MWRA to develop a contingency plan for dealing with unexpected problems. The permit also sets strict limits for discharges from fifteen "combined sewer overflows" which discharge into Boston Harbor and the Charles, Mystic, and Alewife rivers during wet weather. Unprecedented water conservation and pollution prevention components of the permit require: an expansion of leak detection and repair programs; possible retrofit of municipal buildings with water saving devices; and an aggressive PCB reduction program which requires monitoring and enforcing against sources of PCBs into the MWRA system.

"These are the toughest and most comprehensive requirements ever imposed anywhere in America in a wastewater discharge permit for a secondary treatment plant." said John P. DeVillars, EPA's New England administrator. "This permit sets world class operating standards for a world class facility."

"The protections contained in this permit will ensure that the $3.5 billion that has been invested in the Deer Island plant will deliver the water quality benefits all residents of the Commonwealth have a right to expect," DEP Commissioner David B. Struhs.

The permit requires that the MWRA discharge meet water quality standards for 158 pollutants, as well as secondary treatment standards set by EPA. Specifically, the permit includes numeric limits for suspended solids; fecal coliform bacteria; pH; chlorine; PCBs; and CBOD (oxygen-demanding material). Limits for toxicity are set by DEP to protect human health, whales, shellfish, and other aquatic life.

Because some chemicals may have synergistic effects, the MWRA is required to periodically test the toxicity of the effluent as a whole on sensitive marine organisms, and establishes strict limits based on those tests.

Further, the MWRA is required to implement rigorous pollution prevention measures, employ best management practices, and expand water conservation measures as part of its permit requirements.

Components of the outfall monitoring plan include:

    • monitoring the discharge three times daily for bacteria and chlorine; once per day for solids concentration, oxygen-demanding material, and pH; and once per month for numerous other potential pollutants;
    • an unprecedented ambient monitoring program to detect any impact on Massachusetts and Cape Cod Bays--43 monitoring stations, collecting data on a wide range of environmental indicators, from nutrients to heavy metals to algae blooms. Monitoring results will be compared with an extensive baseline data already collected, to help assess any impact of the discharge;
    • the review of all data by a panel of independent scientists reporting to EPA and DEP, with all monitoring results being made available to the public. The Massachusetts Bay Science Advisory Panel will provide expert opinion on issues concerning the impact of the outfall; and
    • the development of a food web model for the right whale and other endangered species. EPA may reopen the permit to require additional modeling or monitoring, pending the outcome of the food web modeling effort.
"Numerous scientific studies predict that effluent from secondary treatment will not have adverse impacts on Massachusetts and Cape Cod Bays. However, we are requiring the MWRA to prepare a contingency plan to ensure prompt response to any unexpected problems," said DeVillars. "It is the first time we have ever made contingency planning a requirement of a discharge permit."

Specifically, the plan establishes "caution" and "warning" levels for 25 environmental indicators, and requires prompt action if warning levels are reached--unless convincing evidence demonstrates that the discharge is not contributing to an environmental problem. EPA and DEP will also take appropriate enforcement actions for permit violations.

Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs) are the pipes that collect both wastewater and stormwater runoff, and discharge directly into a water body after heavy rainstorms, in this case: Boston Harbor, Charles River, Dorchester Bay, Mystic River, and Alewife Brook. The permit requires that the MWRA monitor the discharge from these pipes for a variety of potentially harmful constituents-- bacteria, chlorine and toxins, to ensure that the ecology of the receiving waters is not harmed.

The joint EPA and DEP draft permit is issued to the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) under the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) established by the federal Clean Water Act, and is subject to public review. The following public hearings have been scheduled:

    • Wednesday, March 25, 1998 at 6:00 PM at the Tip O'Neil Building in Boston
    • Wednesday, April 8, 1998 at 6:00 PM at the Natick Town Hall
    • Thursday, April 23, 1998 at 6:00 PM Barnstable Grade 5 School Auditorium, High Street, Barnstable, Cape Cod