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Press Release

City of Gloucester Enters into Agreement to Resolve Clean Water Act Violations Related to Discharge of Undertreated Sewage into Massachusetts Bay

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, District of Massachusetts
City enters into $150 million consent decree alleging that undertreated sewage from water treatment facility results in unauthorized discharges, such as disease causing organisms and toxic pollutants, into Massachusetts Bay

BOSTON – The announcement of a consent decree with the City of Gloucester, Mass. resolves violation of the federal and state Clean Water Acts regarding the City’s water pollution control facility that discharges undertreated waste into Massachusetts Bay. 

The settlement requires the City of Gloucester (City) 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 pursuant to a waiver issued in 2001. EPA and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) more recently determined that water pollution data indicated that the waiver should not be renewed and that upgrading the City’s treatment plant to provide secondary treatment is needed. In response, under the proposed settlement the City agreed to proceed with the upgrades, an expected cost in excess of $150 million. 

In 2022, EPA and MassDEP issued a new National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Permit to the City of Gloucester that included pollution limits which the current treatment plant cannot meet because the plant only provides primary treatment (clarification/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.

“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 United States Attorney Rachael S. Rollins. “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.”

“This settlement is the result of many years of work between EPA and our state and local partners to address sewage pollution from this community entering Massachusetts Bay. The work required under the proposed settlement will help result in cleaner and healthier water for overburdened communities, and a better-protected environment in nearby areas. Notably, this means Gloucester will be the final major city in the eastern U.S. to install secondary treatment at their wastewater treatment facilities. The timing of this is fortunate, as it is a great time to make investments in water treatment infrastructure thanks to funding assistance available in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law that may help defray costs borne by local ratepayers,” said EPA New England Regional Administrator David W. Cash.

“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.”

“We are grateful to our federal and municipal partners for working with us to improve the water quality, and thus the overall health, of Gloucester’s residents,” said Attorney General Andrea Joy Campbell. “These are necessary measures as we continue to ensure that residents, especially those in our coastal communities, live in a healthy and safe environment.”

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 achieved compliance with all permit limits by March 30, 2028.  

Undertreated sewage from the City’s existing water treatment facility results in a variety of unauthorized 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 

U.S. Attorney Rollins; EPA Administrator Cash; AAG Kim and AG Campbell made the announcement today. Assistant U.S. Attorney Annapurna Balakrishna of Rollins’ Civil Division; Henry Friedman, Assistant Section Chief for the Department of Justice’s Environment and National Resources Division (DOJ-ENRD); Brian Donohue, Senior Trial Attorney for DOJ-ENRD; and Jeffrey Kopf, Senior Enforcement Counsel for EPA handled the matter.

More Information: 

How EPA works to protect water by ensuring compliance with environmental laws and regulations: 

How municipalities manage wastewater: 

Final Permit for the City and 301(h) decision:

Updated September 6, 2023