The Clean Water Blog

An Environmental Justice Disaster

Sometimes injustice at the community level, where neighbors live in close proximity to a major polluter for decades, demands that we pull out all the stops. The on-going tragedy taking place in Saugus, Massachusetts is that kind of environmental justice disaster.

Saugus is home to the oldest trash incinerator in the state and its owner, Wheelabrator, is proposing to expand the ash landfill on the site–despite the fact that the landfill is unlined, is smack in the middle of a beautiful marsh formally designated as an Area of Critical Environmental Concern, and surrounded by densely-settled low income neighborhoods of color in Saugus, Revere and Lynn. The incinerator is grand-fathered because of its age, meaning that it would never be allowed to be sited with today's environmental policies in place.

Neighbors are deeply concerned about the toxic cocktail of mercury-lead-dioxin pollution emitted from the incinerator when burning the trash and captured in the ash post-burn. Increasingly extreme storms, as climate change makes this coastal community ever more vulnerable to storm surges and flooding, bring the potential to spread the toxic ash runoff throughout the vulnerable coastal area.

And yet, Massachusetts' top environmental official–Secretary Matthew Beaton–ruled that the proposed ash landfill expansion did not merit an environmental review earlier this year.  Clean Water Action has proudly joined a growing coalition of environmental health allies, community leaders, and concerned officials led by Representative RoseLee Vincent committed to fighting for justice for Saugus and surrounding communities.

This week we met with House Speaker Robert DeLeo to make our case and ask for his help in addressing this disaster to which the Baker Administration has turned a blind eye. We're hopeful that attention from the Speaker will help shine the spotlight on this on-going tragedy and generate momentum for solutions that will ultimately bring justice to the incinerator neighbors who have borne the brunt of this toxic pollution for decades.

And we will keep pushing for the comprehensive solutions that prevent the need for trash incineration anywhere including the Zero Waste planning that Boston is beginning to embrace. The true hope for Saugus and all communities that host trash landfills and incinerators is a common sense mix of increased recycling, waste re-use and re-manufacturing, and packaging reduction that can zero out the need for burning or burying waste anywhere.