ASPPH logo


Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

BU Identifies New Bedford Harbor as Major Source of Airborne PCBs

Sediment contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, from the bottom of New Bedford Harbor, Massachusetts, is the number one source of airborne PCBs in the neighborhoods surrounding the port, according to a new study by researchers from Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) and the University of Iowa.

In fact, airborne PCB emissions are so high that researchers say the harbor is the single largest continuous source of airborne PCBs ever measured from natural waters in the US or Canada.  The study appears in Environmental Science & Technology Letters.

The harbor is one of the largest PCB Superfund sites in the nation, currently undergoing clean-up. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has monitored airborne PCB levels near the harbor since 1999. The levels measured in the study are consistent with levels measured by the EPA, but this is the first time that researchers have focused on the harbor as a unique source of airborne PCBs.

The research team worked with residents affiliated with Hands Across the River Coalition to select air-sampling locations at 18 sites in New Bedford, Fairhaven, Dartmouth, and Acushnet. Air samples were taken during three consecutive periods from July to November 2015. The highest readings for airborne PCBs were from sampling locations closest to the harbor.

Dr. Wendy Heiger-Bernays, associate professor of environmental health at BUSPH, said the New Bedford area community requested the study and “played an integral role in its completion.”