EPA official backs CAD cells for New Bedford Harbor cleanup

NEW BEDFORD — The head of the EPA’s New England region on Thursday backed the use of CAD cell technology in the harbor cleanup, arguing it is a proven technique that will shorten the project’s time line.
“There shouldn’t be a disagreement whether CAD cells work or not if they’re designed right,” said Curt Spalding, administrator for Region 1 of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, during a meeting with The Standard-Times’ editorial board.
He added later: “The community may dislike the CAD as an alternative but we think it’s very viable.”
Spalding said CAD, or confined aquatic disposal, cells have been used up and down the Northeast for some time, including Boston, Narragansett Bay and even New Bedford Harbor.
(There are two CAD cells in the harbor that have been used for sediment excavated as part of a navigational dredging effort.)
At current funding levels of about $15 million a year, the harbor cleanup is projected to take at least four more decades, according to EPA officials.
Using a CAD cell for some of the “moderately contaminated material” — sediment containing PCBs at rates of 50 to about 190 parts per million — allows the EPA to save money and expedite the cleanup, said Spalding.
“The longer this cleanup takes, the worse it is for New Bedford,” he said.
Spalding acknowledged that the level of contamination is probably higher in the sediment the EPA is planning to put in the harbor’s proposed CAD cell than in the other CAD cells he referenced.
“I think that the risk analysis done around this suggests that it’s fully within what would be an acceptable level of risk,” he said. “Again, we made choices. The hottest, the most contaminated material is still going to go out by rail.”
Spalding said the EPA is willing to work with the community to make sure people are educated on the proposed technology.
“We’ve put money into the process so people can get a better understanding of CAD, of how you do a CAD and how it is safe,” said Spalding, referencing a technical assistance grant recently awarded to the Coalition for Buzzards Bay.
Spalding said CADs are very viable if they are done right, and that a technical assistance grant will get the community involved in the process to ensure it is done right.
Edwin Rivera, president of Hands Across the River, a local advocacy group, said he is not against CAD cells in general — but he is against using them for PCB-contaminated sediment.
There is a possibility that the CAD cell could start to leak in the future, which would lead to the harbor being recontaminated, said Rivera, who last week held a sign outside City Hall protesting the CAD cells.
“You know what this all comes down to? Saving a few years of cleanup,” said Rivera. “Our grandchildren are going to be cleaning this up all over again.”
Rivera continued later: “If this was a more affluent community, we wouldn’t be having this problem. … What this all comes down to is money. If we had more funding … we would have this all done in no time.”
Mark Rasmussen, president of the Coalition for Buzzards Bay, said the technical assistance grant his organization received from the EPA was not an education grant: “This is a pick-apart-this-idea-to-see-if-it-holds-water grant,” he said.
Rasmussen continued later: “Are they asking us to accept that if this technical review turns up significant problems with their proposal that they’re going to do it anyway? … Because that does not sound acceptable to me.”
January 18, 2012 12:00 AM
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