Town potentially liable for cost of Bliss Corner cleanup

May 4, 2021

The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection has found that both the town of Dartmouth and the city of New Bedford are at least partly responsible for historic dumping of toxic waste in Dartmouth’s Bliss Corner neighborhood.

According to a release from Dartmouth Town Administrator Shawn MacInnes, MassDEP issued “Notice of Responsibility” letters to Dartmouth and New Bedford municipal governments on April 26 stating that both the town and the city will likely be on the hook for cleaning up the area, although it is unclear exactly what remediation is required from each, or how much it will cost.

MassDEP began an investigation into soil contamination in the neighborhood in July 2018 after toxic chemicals were found at construction sites on Kraseman and McCabe streets.

Contaminants found in the area include polychlorinated biphenyls, also known as PCBs, lead, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, among others.

In November 2019, the levels of PCBs and lead in the soil at two properties — a residence on 19 Kraseman Street and the Little People’s College child care facility at 52 Donald Street — were found at “imminent hazard” levels, which according to state regulations pose “a significant risk of harm” even if only present for a short time.

Following several rounds of groundwater and soil testing, the US Environmental Protection Agency began supporting the state agency with continued residential soil sampling last summer. 

MassDEP wrote that the agency “has reason to believe” that the town of Dartmouth “arranged for and/or otherwise caused the historic disposal of waste and fill material” at various Bliss Corner properties in the 1950s.

“Information provided by the Town of Dartmouth in 2019 and 2020 in response to MassDEP's Requests for lnformation indicates that in and around the 1950s particular property owners requested to have their lots filled, and that they engaged with the Town Board of Health to source that fill,” the letter reads.

The town could be on the hook for up to three times the cost of testing and cleanup, as well as a 12% interest on any costs already incurred by MassDEP — and it may also be liable for damages to natural resources caused by the chemicals, according to the notice.

And although the city of New Bedford is also held to be responsible — MassDEP writes that the city “filled vacant and residential lots with waste and ash between the 1930s and the 1960s” — Dartmouth is potentially liable for these costs “regardless of the existence of any other liable parties.”

However, taking prompt action could greatly lower the costs or avoid liability for MassDEP’s costs altogether, the agency noted.

MassDEP will be meeting with town officials this spring in order to discuss next steps.

“The Town of Dartmouth continues to take this issue very seriously and will be working closely with DEP as they work to complete their investigation, and develop remediation plans,” stated MacInnes. “As new information becomes available from DEP, the town will update the community.”

The full press release and Notice of Responsibility is available for download above.

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