Thursday, August 16, 2007

Letter to the Boston Globe about Mirant-Kendall power plant and the algae blooms

This letter from Marilyn Wellons responds to an editorial in the Boston Globe that managed to discuss the algae bloom without mentioning Ebersol Fields' contribution to the phenomenon.

Among other reasons, since it is over the Globe's 200-word limit for letters, it may not be published.

To the Editor:

Your editorial on the Charles, “A river system in hot water” (August 13, 2007), oddly subsumes a major factor in the 2006 and 2007 algae blooms under the rubric of “runoffs from nutrient-rich fertilized lawns.”

It’s no secret that runoff from 6 acres of commercial sod, installed in the spring of 2006 at “Teddy Ebersol’s Red Sox Fields at Lederman Park,” have fed the algae and disrupted the river’s chemistry. These DCR fields by Mass General Hospital are directly opposite the Mirant-Kendall power plant in Cambridge, where other pollutants collect before discharge into Boston Harbor.

While you hesitate to ascribe full responsibility for the algae blooms to Mirant-Kendall, you omit this other, critical piece of the puzzle. Mirant-Kendall ran at an even higher capacity in August, 2005, but there was no explosion of algae. A year later, in August, 2006, your paper quoted a water quality scientist as saying of the astronomical counts, “We’ve never seen an algae bloom like this before.” (“Toxic algae levels feared in lower Charles River,” August 16, 2006, p. A1.) There had never been those 6 acres of commercial sod at the river’s mouth, either.

Boaters could smell the fertilizer offshore from the fields all last summer. Other chemicals applied to the 6 acres also disrupted the river’s chemistry. In July, 2006, Ebersol Fields developed a fungus, as is common with overwatered, fertilized turf. The DCR asked for and received permission to apply “Tartan,” a fungicide, to the entire 6 acres, to provide the “quality of turf our players deserve.” (Boston Conservation Commission hearing, August 2, 2006.)

The label for “Tartan” warns against its use near water. (“Toxic to fish and aquatic invertebrates. Do not apply directly to water, to areas where surface water is present or to intertidal areas . . . . Drift and runoff from treated areas may be hazardous to fish/aquatic organisms in adjacent sites. . . Do not apply when weather conditions favor runoff or drift.” Material Safety Data Sheet, attachment to DCR Request for Determination of Applicability, July 19, 2006.)

The first application was August 10-11, the second, September 1. The DCR supplemented the two treatments with “field fertilization” and irrigation.” (Memo, July 19, 2006, Stephen D. Brown, DCR Project Manager, to Boston Conservation Commission.) The algae count exploded after the first treatment, then dropped toward the end of August. After the second, the count climbed again.

Taxpayers in the Charles River watershed have spent $60 million to clean up the river for swimming. By 2013 we will have spent $19 million more. Now Cambridge is paying $1.5 million to pollute the river. It will install 7 acres of commercial sod at the DCR’s Magazine Beach this summer, to repeat the blunder at Ebersol Fields and make swimming impossible there. Since the project’s puddle, billed as a “wetland” and far upriver from Mirant-Kendall, has already had an algae bloom this summer, we can expect really spectacular Cyanobacteria once the fields go in.