Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Cambridge City Council votes to pollute the Charles, expose children to pesticides and other chemicals

On September 24, 2007 the Cambridge City Council voted to endorse the joint Cambridge-DCR project at Magazine Beach. Councillor Davis's Order, described here on September 23 ("Environmental Destroyer"), passed, 8-0-1. Councillor Galluccio was absent.

The September 23 blog also posted the text of Marilyn Wellons's letter to the City Council and a copy of her July 29, 2007 e-mail to to Rep. Marty Walz ("Reality on the 'Renovation' of Magazine Beach").

After the Council's vote, Wellons sent the following letter to the Cambridge legislative delegation and attached the July 29 e-mail to Walz as documentation. (This entry reposts that e-mail.) She sent similar letters, with the attachment, to the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture, and to the Governor.

Since these elected officials represent non-Cambridge municipalities and voters who have paid to clean up the Charles River and Boston Harbor, they may bring some common sense to the issue if the Cambridge City Council will not or cannot.

Cambridge voters might ask themselves and candidates this election year why we should pay for the ill-conceived project. Like Ebersol Fields, it will create toxic algae blooms in the river. According to the city's agreement with the DCR, it will give Cambridge public school children first priority for exposure to the herbicides, pesticides, and fungicides needed to maintain the 7 acres of commercial sod.

Voters might also ask candidates for City Council and School Committee how this project affects natural ecosystems, water quality, pollution of the environment, and exposure to pesticides and other chemicals.

Leaving aside fears of brain-eating amoebas that feed on algae in warm water, anyone with hopes of swimming in the Charles should ask how this project advances that goal.


Dear Members of the Cambridge Legislative Delegation:

Last night the Cambridge City Council voted to urge you to "assure that work goes forward [with the joint Cambridge-DCR project] at Magazine Beach according to the current timeline," i.e., contract out to bid in October, construction in 2008. Cambridge has placed $1.5 million in escrow for it, to be released at the Governor's discretion.

The project will replace 7 acres of dirt and grass adapted to the riverfront environment with 7 acres of gravel, topsoil, commercial sod, an irrigation system, and fences.

Its prototype is "Teddy Ebersol's Red Sox Fields at Lederman Park" in Boston, near MGH. Runoff from the 6 acres of commercial sod there polluted the Charles River in 2006 and 2007, creating a public health hazard. As a result of DCR ongoing maintenance of the professional-level turf, pollution from this source and resulting dangerous algae blooms will continue.

The fields now at Magazine Beach simultaneously accommodate an existing regulation Little League field, soccer, frisbee, golf practice, other active uses, and "Bordering Land Subject to Flooding"--rich wildlife habitat and important passive open space for us city dwellers. A second regulation Little League field is less than 200 yards away, at Lindstrom Field between Memorial Drive and Granite Street.

As at Ebersol, at Magazine Beach the commercial sod will get repeated applications of fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides to maintain it. Children and adults, pets and wildlife, all will be exposed to these chemicals. As downstream, runoff from the fields will pollute the river and, subsequently, the harbor.

You represent not only Cambridge but other municipalities in the Charles River watershed, whose taxpayers have already paid $60 million to clean it up. Another $19 million will be spent before 2013 for this purpose. Please exercise judgment and urge the Governor to protect the river, not destroy it.

I am writing the Governor and members of the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture, to alert them to these problems and ask for common sense from them as well.

Attached please find my e-mail of July 29, 2007, to Rep. Marty Walz. It outlines the connection between installation and maintenance of Ebersol Fields and the resulting algae blooms of 2006 and 2007.


July 29 e-mail:

Dear Rep. Walz,

Thank you for sending the DCR’s response. Unfortunately it doesn’t address the problem for water quality caused by the DCR’s 6 acres at Ebersol Fields (installed spring 2006) and by the one planned for 6 acres at Magazine Beach (set for this summer).

The DCR has heavily fertilized and otherwise chemically treated Ebersol Fields. Boaters could smell the fertilizer in the middle of the river offshore from the fields all last summer. Runoff from fertilizers and other chemicals is a well-known cause of algae bloom.

Contrary to the DCR’s statement to you, documents filed with the Boston Conservation Commission indicate ongoing maintenance of the Ebersol Fields is with fertilizers, pesticides, and other chemicals as necessary. The DCR lists “slow-release organic fertilizers” and “integrated pest management practices using biological controls and minimizing [but not prohibiting] the use of chemical alternatives.” (“Operation and Maintenance Plan,” DCR Notice of Intent, submitted May 4, 2005.)

Fertilizers, organic or not, have nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium that wash into the river, as do the other chemicals applied. Standard chemical care of a home lawn is: 5 applications of fertilizer, 6 of herbicides, and 1 of pesticides, in five treatments from early spring to late fall. (Mailing received from TLC, The Lawn Company, P.O. Box 698, Shrewsbury, MA.)

Maintenance of the 6 acres at Ebersol Fields is estimated at $200,000 per year. Mr. Dick Ebersol has pledged up to $500,000 to match private contributions for this purpose. (Charlestown Patriot-Bridge, June 15, 2006.)

In July, 2006, the Ebersol Fields developed a fungus, as is common with overwatered, fertilized turf (New York Times, July 6, 2007, p. B1, “When the Grass Was Greener”). On August 2, 2006, the DCR asked for and received permission to apply “Tartan,” a fungicide, to the entire 6 acres. The first “Tartan” application was August 10-11, the second, September 1. (Communication from Richard Scott, DCR, September 11, 2006.) Geller Sport, DCR designer of Ebersol, supplemented the two fungicide 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.

The DCR has not hesitated to fertilize and otherwise chemically treat the sod at Ebersol Fields. It has an ample budget to do so. The DCR representative told the ConCom on August 2 that “Tartan” was required to provide “the quality of turf our players deserve.” The agency is eager to provide the same at Magazine Beach. Cambridge also is giving an ample budget for maintenance.

The label warning for “Tartan” reads: “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 Boston ConCom’s Order of Conditions for “Tartan” requires that “[i]f at any time during the implementation of the project a fish kill or significant water quality problem occurs in the vicinity of the project, all site related activities impacting the water shall cease until the source of the problem is identified and adequate mitigating measures employed to the satisfaction of the Commission.” (Attachment A—Project Conditions, Negative Determination of Applicability, August 2, 2006.)
The unprecedented algae bloom of August, 2006, occurred in the twenty days between the two applications of “Tartan” and fertilizer. I have found no evidence that there has ever been an inquiry into the cause of the bloom or its relation to Ebersol Fields. The DCR has offered none to you.

In sum, the DCR says it doesn’t usually use fertilizers or herbicides on the Charles. Nevertheless it did so at Ebersol Fields. It didn’t plan to use “Tartan” there, but did so. The reply does not deny the use of pesticides.

With regard to Magazine Beach, this response means nothing good to residents of the Charles River watershed. We’ve already spent $60 million to clean up the river, with another $19 million to go before 2013. Our water rates in Cambridge continue to rise. Now we’re set to pay $1.5 million to repeat the blunder at Ebersol Fields and pollute the river at Magazine Beach.

I hope you will ask the Governor not to disperse the Cambridge funds for this imminent, ill-conceived project.