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Lawmakers seek more info about capping ‘Foul Area’ in Massachusetts Bay

About 19 miles east of Boston Harbor, thousands of barrels of toxic waste are decomposing in less than 300 feet of water.
About 19 miles east of Boston Harbor, thousands of barrels of toxic waste are decomposing in less than 300 feet of water.David N. Wiley/Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary

Three Massachusetts lawmakers are asking federal authorities for more information about the covering of a toxic waste site about 19 miles east of Boston Harbor known as “The Foul Area.”

In a letter to Environmental Protection Agency officials, Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III suggested there may be up to 80,000 barrels of toxic waste on the ocean floor in the area.

"I request information regarding any emergency response plans and actions to contain and minimize damages should further toxic release result from this project, specifically efforts to protect the local fishing stock and endangered species,” Kennedy wrote.

The politician Kennedy is running to replace had similar concerns.

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Senator Edward J. Markey, in a separate letter with fellow Massachusetts Democrat Senator Elizabeth Warren, asked federal authorities for information on the types of chemicals found at disposal site. The senators also want to know how the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers are monitoring the site.

“It is imperative that we understand the impacts of the Foul Area on the ocean around it,” read the letter from Markey and Warren.

The two letters follow a Boston Globe report detailing plans for the mile-wide toxic waste site near Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary.

Government reports and congressional testimony have suggested the barrels may contain plutonium and other dangerous materials discarded after the completion of the Manhattan Project during World War II.

The federal government is trying to bury the containers at least 3 feet deep with roughly 10 million tons of sediment dredged from a $340 million project to widen shipping channels in Boston Harbor. Officials said that capping the toxic material, which includes unexploded munitions, was safer than trying to bring the rusting barrels to the surface.

Some have raised doubts about the project and the potential impact on the marine sanctuary, which is home to an estimated 130 species. At its closest point, the dumping ground is less than a quarter-mile from Stellwagen.

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Kennedy, a Newton Democrat, is seeking details about oversight and emergency preparations "to protect Bay Staters from harmful exposure.” The site is "in the midst of the most productive and profitable fishing grounds in the world,” he wrote.

The federal government started dumping barrels filled with toxic substances in an area within the bay during the 1940s. Reports indicated that highly toxic substances, including pesticides and PCBs, are located in the area, Kennedy said.

Markey, a Malden native, said in his letter with Warren that it is “unacceptable that the federal government is only starting to remediate the Foul Area — dropping material dredged from the Boston Harbor to cover the waste barrels — when half of the barrels are no longer intact and fishermen who pull up these barrels in their nets become sick.”

The senators want to know if there is a precedent for covering industrial waste in the ocean with dredged material and are also curious if officials are monitoring radioactivity of leaked material and its effects on marine life and human health.


Danny McDonald can be reached at daniel.mcdonald@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Danny__McDonald. David Abel can be reached at david.abel@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @davabel.