Cleaning Up the Creek Could the Sins of the Past Be Revisited?

News coming out of New Bedford rarely, if ever, has any bearing on Chelsea.

That city is seemingly worlds away, but it does have one similar problem – highly polluted waterways resulting from the past sins of long-gone industrial interests.

New Bedford Harbor has long been just as badly polluted as Chelsea Creek, and the same tired jokes have long been told about that Harbor as they have been told about the water in the Creek.

Yet, one positive piece of news on this front came out of New Bedford last week, and it just could have some bearing on Chelsea’s long-suffering waterfront.

It’s no secret that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been unleashed by the current federal administration after many years of moderation in that powerful agency. One could look at that as much for the good as for the bad. In the recent New Bedford case, though, that unbridled EPA took on a company that polluted the Harbor as far back as the 1940s…and cashed in.

The company, AVX, has been found after an investigation by the EPA to have been a large contributor of PCBs (Polychlorinated biphenyl) in that Harbor’s sediment from the 1940s to the 1970s – literally decades ago. In fact, there is no evidence that the electrical capacitor manufacturing company has done any damage to the Harbor since that time, but still the EPA was able to settle with the company for a record $366.25 million.

That amount was a record for the federal government’s pollution cleanup program, and all the funds will be used to clean up New Bedford Harbor. In fact, it is estimated that the full cleanup will now take seven years rather than 40 years.

The settlement also came on top of a previous settlement with AVX in 1984, where they paid the government $66 million for damages they caused to the Harbor – presumably at a time in history when no one knew how truly damaging these dumped chemicals would be in the future to our waterways.

Why is this important in Chelsea?

Because this is the exact same situation that Chelsea finds itself in with regard to the Creek.

For years, most in Chelsea have known that former industrial business interests on the Creek – let’s say Cabot Paints, for example – did immeasurable damage to the waterways when they dumped chemicals and PCBs directly into the water.

For just as long, everyone here has also just shrugged their shoulders and determined that those damaging acts happened so many years ago that they are no longer up for discussion.

Previously, that was probably true.

Cabot and about a half-dozen other former industrial polluters on the Creek are long gone, and it almost doesn’t seem fair to hold them accountable for things done, most likely, in ignorance so many decades ago.

But this settlement in New Bedford seemingly throws all of those sentiments into the sediment.

AVX has agreed to a settlement of record amounts for actions its corporate predecessor took some 72 years ago.

That is certainly cause for pause when thinking about the prospects of cleaning up the Creek, and quickly.

Maybe its not such a good idea to dig up the ugly past in our waterways and industrial sites; the prospect seems never-ending and a tad bit unfair to businesses that, today, have no real responsibility for what happened so long ago.

However, if the tide of the EPA is to dig up such messes and the companies are willing to acquiesce, then shouldn’t Chelsea Creek get a ticket on that boat?

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