|Abstract:||Most of the major urban centers of the United States including Boston, New York, Washington, Chicago, New Orleans, Miami, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle - are on a coast (fig. 1.1). All of these cities discharge treated sewage effluent into adjacent waters. In 2000, 74 percent of the U.S. population lived within 200 kilometers (km) of the coast. Between 1980 and 2002, the population density in coastal communities increased approximately 4.5 times faster than in noncoastal areas of the U.S. (Perkins, 2004). More people generate larger volumes of wastes, increase the demands on wastewater treatment, expand the area of impervious land surfaces, and use more vehicles that contribute contaminants to street runoff. According to the National Coastal Condition Report II (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 2005a), on the basis of coastal habitat, water and sediment quality, benthic index, and fish tissue, the overall national coastal condition is only poor to fair and the overall coastal condition in the highly populated Northeast is poor.
Scientific information helps managers to prioritize and regulate coastal-ocean uses that include recreation, commercial fishing, transportation, waste disposal, and critical habitat for marine organisms. These uses are often in conflict with each other and with environmental concerns. Developing a strategy for managing competing uses while maintaining sustainability of coastal resources requires scientific understanding of how the coastal ocean system behaves and how it responds to anthropogenic influences. This report provides a summary of a multidisciplinary research program designed to improve our understanding of the transport and fate of contaminants in Massachusetts coastal waters.
Massachusetts Bay and Boston Harbor have been a focus of U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) research because they provide a diverse geographic setting for developing a scientific understanding of the geology, geochemistry, and oceanography of coastal systems in general. Scientific data from this region can also be used to inform decisions about important economic, environmental, and political issues. From the economic viewpoint, the annual value of tourism and shipping in Massachusetts and Cape Cod Bays is about $1.5 billion and $1.9 billion, respectively. Commercial and recreational fishing generates about $240 million per year in the same region (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 2005b).
The environmental issue is the 300-year history of waste discharge from the Boston metropolitan area into the harbor. This history is punctuated by cycles of environmental degradation, public outcry, and improvements in the sewage treatment system. With each improvement, however, the continuous growth of population in greater Boston (fig. 1.2) and the resulting increase in the volume of waste exceeded the capacity of the treatment system, thereby setting the stage for a new contamination crisis. By the 1980s, the levels of contaminants in sediments of Boston Harbor were among the highest in the nation (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 1987). Fish were diseased, shellfish beds were closed, and swimming beaches were unsafe after heavy rains; in general, water quality and aesthetics were below acceptable standards.
Legal and political issues have always been part of Boston Harbor‘s history. The environmental conditions in the 1980s were highlighted in a 1983 legal suit brought by the city of Quincy against the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC, the state agency responsible for sewage treatment) and heads of three state agencies for discharging untreated or poorly treated sewage into the harbor (Dolin, 2004). The suit never went to trial, but through the actions of a Massachusetts Superior Court, the issue of Boston Harbor contamination remained on the political and public agenda. The judge called the harbor ‘unsafe, unsanitary, indecent, in violation of the law (Clean Water Act), and a dange