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The U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts have entered into a consent decree with the City of Gloucester, Massachusetts, to resolve violations of the Clean Water Act regarding the city’s water pollution control facility that discharges undertreated effluent into Massachusetts Bay.
The settlement requires Gloucester to undertake a construction project to add secondary treatment to its water pollution control facility. Secondary treatment is a combination of physical and biological processes that break down many harmful elements in municipal sewage. The city has operated without secondary controls on its treatment plant under a permit waiver issued most recently in 2001. EPA and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) more recently determined that upgrading the City’s treatment plant to provide secondary treatment was needed to address water pollution in Massachusetts Bay. In response, under the proposed settlement the city agreed to proceed with the upgrades. The cost of the remedial measures is expected to be in excess of $150 million.
“The Clean Water Act requires controls to limit the harmful impacts of sewage discharges,” said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “The settlement will ensure significant, long-term investment into the City’s water treatment infrastructure to safeguard the health of Massachusetts Bay.”
“Fiercely protecting our environment is a civil and human rights issue. Ensuring that bodies of water are not contaminated with harmful toxins and pollutants remains a vital part of this work. This consent decree requires Gloucester to take significant steps to improve the quality of the water it discharges into Massachusetts Bay,” said U.S. Attorney Rachael S. Rollins for the District of Massachusetts. “The successful implementation of the Consent Decree will ensure a healthier environment for the residents of Gloucester and all of us in the Commonwealth. My office remains committed to fighting for healthier, cleaner and safer communities.”
“Sewage can carry harmful pollutants, posing potential harm to human health and aquatic organisms,” said Acting Assistant Administrator Larry Starfield of the EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “By reducing discharges into Massachusetts Bay, this settlement will result in cleaner, safer water, benefiting both local communities and the environment.”
In 2022, EPA issued a new NPDES Permit to the City of Gloucester which included pollution limits that the current treatment plant cannot meet because the plant only provides primary treatment, known as clarification or settling and disinfection. Complying with the proposed consent decree, if entered by the federal court, will help ensure that Gloucester comes into compliance with the Clean Water Act.
The City of Gloucester has already provided an aggressive schedule to EPA and MassDEP for design and construction of secondary treatment. The city has proposed to complete design and bidding of the project by the end of 2024, complete construction of secondary treatment by the end of 2027, and achieve compliance with all permit limits by March 30, 2028.
Undertreated sewage from the city’s existing water treatment facility results in a variety of harmful discharges into Massachusetts Bay, including disease causing organisms and toxic pollutants.
The proposed consent decree is subject to a 30-day public comment period and court approval after it is published in the Federal Register. It is available at www.justice.gov/enrd/consent-decrees.
The EPA and MassDEP are investigating the case.
Assistant Section Chief Henry Friedman of the Environment and Natural Resources Division’s Environmental Enforcement Section, Assistant U.S. Attorney Annapurna Balakrishna for the District of Massachusetts and EPA Attorney Jeff Kopf are handling this matter.