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Case: New Bedford Harbor, MA

Site History: Chronic releases of hazardous substances, 1940s-1970s.

Location: New Bedford Harbor, Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts.


Upper Acushnet River looking north (Bellmer, NOAA, 1987) Upper Acushnet River looking north
(Bellmer, NOAA, 1987)
Salt marsh in outer New Bedford Harbor (Terrill, NOAA, 1995) Salt marsh in outer New Bedford Harbor
(Terrill, NOAA, 1995)
Case status: Natural resource damage assessment (NRDA) settlement in 1992 for 20.2 million.

Overview: New Bedford Harbor is a major commercial fishing port and industrial center in southeastern Massachusetts on Buzzards Bay. From the 1940s to the 1970s, electrical parts manufacturers discharged wastes containing polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and toxic metals into New Bedford Harbor, resulting in high levels of contamination throughout the waters, sediments and biota of the Harbor and parts of Buzzards Bay. Hundreds of acres of marine sediment were highly contaminated. One location contained the highest concentrations of PCBs ever documented in a marine environment.

Biological effects of the contamination include reproductive impairment and death of marine life throughout the estuary, along with loss of marine biodiversity in areas of high contamination. The economic impact was severe, due to long-term fishing closures, lost beach use, diminished property values, and reduced opportunities for coastal development.

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