Lower Neponset River slated for cleanup of dangerous pollution

On Earth Day 2022, the focus on the health and future of our planet has never been more intense as concerns grow about the rapid pace of climate change.

Despite that concerning news, a positive story is unfolding along with one of the region’s most vital waterways.

The Lower Neponset River, which has been polluted for decades, is now about to be cleaned up.

A four-mile stretch of the river in Hyde Park, Mattapan, Milton, and Dorchester has been designated a federal Superfund site.

The goal is to make that area of the river safe for all kinds of recreational activities.

Ian Cooke, executive director of the Neponset River Watershed Association, said the river was used to power small industries for hundreds of years. By the 1930s, more fossil-fueled powered industries started to be built along the river and that’s when the pollution really ramped up.

Today, the Lower Neponset is contaminated with something known as PCBs, which are chemicals used in different industrial settings. They’re now banned.

PCBs have been linked to cancer and can cause reproductive and neurological issues.

Dangerous concentrations of these chemicals can be found in the river’s mud.

“Probably the biggest health risk here is eating fish caught in this section of the river,” said Cooke. “That’s not a good thing.”

It’s safe to ride a canoe or kayak, but the river’s mud and sediment need to be avoided at all costs.

“Dangerous chemicals don’t belong in our water,” said Boston Mayor Michelle Wu at the news conference announcing the Superfund cleanup. “They don’t belong in our communities.”

Cooke is excited about what this cleanup means for the river’s future. “We’re definitely going to see healthier wildlife. We should see more recreational activity.”

One of the challenges of the clean up is to not stir up toxins in the sediment as it’s being removed.

Cooke says the project should take a couple of years but believes it’s well worth the time and money to restore one of the region’s environmental jewels. “This river has just this incredible potential to be just a little piece of nature in the city that can connect people.”

As part of Earth Day, the Neponset River Watershed Association is sponsoring a cleanup on Saturday April 23rd and is looking for volunteers.