Boston Sewage Outfall: The Fate of Sediments and Contaminants in Massachusetts Bay

Science Center Objects

This project is complete and the website is archived and no longer updated.

Boston Harbor, once one of the most polluted waterways in the nation, is in the final stages of a major cleanup. A $3.8 billion cleanup program, begun in 1985 by the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) was designed to address more than 300 years of metropolitan waste disposal. The cleanup has significantly improved the environmental quality of the harbor, enforced reduction of industrial waste releases at the source, eliminated sludge discharge (Dec. 1991), improved treatment of Boston sewage, and relocated the sewage outfall from the Harbor mouth to a new location 9 miles offshore in Massachusetts Bay.


Since 1989, the United States Geological Survey (USGS), in cooperation with the MWRA, has been conducting research to understand and predict the fate of contaminants introduced to Massachusetts` coastal waters. The overall objective is to develop a capability to predict the fate of contaminants associated with fine-grained sediments on a regional basis. We emphasize sediments because most contaminants introduced to the ocean are adsorbed by and transported with suspended sediments. After complicated cycles of deposition, resuspension, and biological and chemical interactions, contaminants on particles may be eventually buried in bottom sediments, which become the ultimate contaminant sink.