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Throw the snow in the Harbor!

Posted Jan 30 2011 6:27am
As I was walking home last night, I saw this scene on Arlington Street in downtown Boston. I was reminded of a story I heard the other day on WBUR's Radio Boston about the problems being faced by Boston and other communities as they engage in snow removal from municipal streets. One aspect of the problem is that state environmental officials have prohibited Boston and other coastal communities from disposing of street snow in the Harbor.

Now, I don't think anyone can contest my environmental bona fide's. After all, I ran the agency that accomplished the Boston Harbor Cleanup, one of the world's largest environmental remediation projects. But this is one rule that I just don't understand.

Yes, I know that snow on city streets picks up all kinds of chemicals and pollutants from the city environment, and I know it also picks up salt and chemical de-icers during its residence time.

But, instead of dumping this snow in the harbor, it gets trucked -- using thousands of gallons of fuel which create all kinds of air emissions -- to inland locations. What happens there? It melts, and those same pollutants enter the ground water system. Or they go into city storm drains, where they end up where? Boston Harbor.

Perchance some of the melted snow goes down storm drains that empty into the city's combined system, which sends the wastewater to the Deer Island sewage treatment plant. In that case, such contaminants that are captured are concentrated in the sludge at the plant, which is eventually made into fertilizer, from which the chemicals leach out onto farmland somewhere. The contaminants that are not captured in the sludge go out through a tunnel 9.5 miles long with the plant's effluent to Massachusetts Bay, the receiving water for . . . Boston Harbor.

I just don't see the point. Why don't we save the extra expense so Boston and other coastal communities can use that money for things like environmental education in the local schools?

When snow falls from the sky, it goes directly into the Harbor. Let's follow Nature's lead.
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