New Bedford’s Harbor Is a Billion Dollars Cleaner, But Long-term Impacts Remain

Workers remove contaminated sediment from a marsh along the edge of the New Bedford Harbor. (Daniel Ackerman/CAI)

Stephen Theberge grew up a few blocks from the harbor in New Bedford, Mass., and his memory of the waterway in the 1980s isn’t pretty.

“It was abysmal,” said Theberge, recalling the sight (and smell) of raw sewage and garbage lapping the shores where he used to fish. One image still sticks with him: “The striped bass’ gills would be black with all that pollution.”

The black coating on the fish gills was a buildup of polychlorinated biphenyls — PCBs — carcinogens that have plagued the harbor and its wildlife since the 1940s.

These days, Theberge says the water is looking clearer. Sometimes he can see clear down to the bottom of the harbor. “When I was young and going out on a boat—I don’t remember that.”

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