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Environmental Protection


Boston city
Boston city

The various state agencies with environmental responsibilities were reorganized in 1990 into the Department of Environmental Protection. This department is responsible for water quality and resources, air quality, and solid and hazardous waste management. In 2008 Massachusetts had 31 hazardous waste sites on a national priority list for cleanup due to their severity or proximity to people. Progress was being made in efforts to reduce pollution; during the period 1995–2000 the state reduced the amount of toxic chemicals discharged into the environment by 46 percent.

Air quality


Air quality in Massachusetts was once poor. Prior to the late 1980s, none of the state’s counties consistently met federal air quality standards. A motor-vehicle emission inspection program was begun in 1983, but by 1986 no area met the standard for ozone, and most urban areas failed to meet the standards for particulate matter (dust and soot) and carbon monoxide. Control of toxic air pollutants has been a priority since 1986. Massachusetts has a long list of controlled pollutants, such as dioxin. In 1989 further reductions in industrial emissions of these chemicals were ordered. In the early 1990s about 6,500 metric tons of toxic material was released into the air in the state, a reduction by one-half from the amount released four years earlier.

The Springfield, Lowell, and Boston metropolitan regions stand out as having the worst problems. In the mid-1990s the Boston metropolitan area had two days a year in which air pollution levels were considered unhealthy; as many as 12 days were so recorded annually in the late 1980s.

Most of the state regulations for the handling, treatment, and disposal of hazardous waste are stricter than the federal standards. In 1984 the state enacted a “right to know” law, one of the first in the nation. The law requires industries to provide lists and amounts of certain toxic chemicals that are released each year. Massachusetts is also one of the first states to address the problem of disposing of household hazardous waste, such as paint thinner and old medicines.

Picture of Boston
Picture of Boston

Massachusetts developed serious solid waste (trash) management problems in the late 1980s. By 1988, 60 percent of the state’s available landfill capacity had been used, with few new landfills being created. There was little public support for incineration, so in the late 1980s the state set recycling goals and planned reductions in the amount of solid waste generated. By the mid-1990s a majority of the state’s communities had some form of recycling program.

Water quality


The state’s most notorious water problem was Boston Harbor, into which hundreds of old sewer systems spilled untreated sewage during heavy rains. Water quality improved dramatically when the state began shipping sludge that once was dumped into the harbor to its new sludge-to-fertilizer processing plant. In 1994 the first phase of the new treatment plant began operation. In addition to more treatment, the completion of an outfall tunnel for the discharge of treated effluent 14 km (9 mi) out to sea will improve the health of Boston Harbor.

Although regular water testing indicates that toxic pollutants are not a major pollution source in rivers, contaminated sediments in riverbeds warrant advisories against consumption of fish from dozens of rivers, lakes, and ponds. The number of times the state closed saltwater beaches because of coliform bacteria contamination was cut in half during the early 1990s. Largely because of large investments in wastewater treatment, the impact of municipal and industrial discharges has been dramatically reduced. More than 99 percent of the public drinking water supplies meet the quality standards set by the federal government. "Massachusetts" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia

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