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Review of Oceanographic and Geochemical Data Collected in Massachusetts Bay during a Large Discharge of Total Suspended Solids from Boston's Sewage-Treatment System and Ocean Outfall in August 2002

March 27, 2010

During the period August 14-23, 2002, the discharge of total suspended solids (TSS) from the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority sewage-treatment plant ranged from 32 to 132 milligrams per liter, causing the monthly average discharge to exceed the limit specified in the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permit. Time-series monitoring data collected by the U.S. Geological Survey in western Massachusetts Bay were examined to evaluate changes in environmental conditions during and after this exceedance event. The rate of sediment trapping and the concentrations of near-bottom suspended sediment measured near the outfall in western Massachusetts Bay increased during this period. Because similar increases in sediment-trapping rate were observed in the summers of 2003 and 2004, however, the increase in 2002 cannot be definitively attributed to the increased TSS discharge. Concentrations of copper and silver in trapped sediment collected 10 and 20 days following the 2002 TSS event were elevated compared to those in pre-event samples. Maximum concentrations were less than 50 percent of toxicity guidelines. Photographs of surficial bottom sediments obtained before and after the TSS event do not show sediment accumulation on the sea floor. Concentrations of silver, Clostridium perfringens, and clay in surficial bottom sediments sampled 10 weeks after the discharge event at a depositional site 3 kilometers west of the outfall were unchanged from those in samples obtained before the event. Simulation of the TSS event by using a coupled hydrodynamic-wave-sediment-transport model could enhance understanding of these observations and of the effects of the exceedance on the local marine environment.