Study Shows Malden River Sediments Should Not Prevent Boating

After more than a year of information gathering and study of sediments in the Malden River, the Mystic River Watershed Association (MyRWA) recently announced that they have concluded the once-industrial River is safe for boating – including canoes, sculls and kayaks.

MyRWA released its report of the sediment studies this month and concluded that the Malden River, while containing sediments like lead, is not harmful for adults or young people to use for boating. That includes kayaking, canoeing and the Everett High Crew Team.

“One perspective we’ve all been working to understand is the abundance of caution by public officials about recommending the Malden River as a site for boating,” said Andy Hrycyna, a watershed scientist for MyRWA. “I feel that was a reasonable stance given the evidence. People who knew the history know that 150 years of industrial waste poured into the Malden River…You can calculate out that risk (from sediments) and our stance is that risk is negligible. From a public policy standpoint we don’t have to worry about the risks for boating because they are so negligible, so small.”

That information was a revelation for local folks who have wanted to use the Malden River, but reputation or experience prevented them from using it confidently. Many were wary of the exposure to sediments at the bottom or sediments in the water, and what that might mean for those using the River frequently for boating.

The answer is there is no need to worry, which goes against most popular sentiments for generations.

“For decades, our waterfront has been walled off to the public because of its commercial and industrial uses,” said Mayor Carlo DeMaria. “Last year we built over a mile of public walkways, a marina, restored a polluted harbor and shorelines. Now thanks to environmental testing by the Mystic River watershed we have shown our river and shorelines are safe for sculling, kayaking, and other recreational activities. It is a far cry from when my mother told me not to near the water, because it wasn’t safe.”

Hrycyna said the news is good news for those looking for boating opportunities, and those who have already been using it.

“We have an interest to see people committed to the River and this is only good news for that,” he said. “It should also be reassuring to people who have been using the River already, like high school rowers and adult boaters…Before, we couldn’t say with confidence it was safe. We had our opinions, but opinions can be wrong. This is a numerical way to address the question. We knew that’s what we need to do. It’s not so much that we’re not surprised, but rather that we have a good public answer to this question now.”

The study looked at nine locations along the Malden River, and researchers carefully gathered samples from the sediments over a period of time at those locations. They took the concentrations of those sediments, and then ran their models on a very conservative basis.

For example, their determination that the River is safe for boating assumes that one is getting in a boat by wading in the mud (rather than a dock), that every boating trip results in the boat capsizing, and that there is significant water ingested each time – among other such assumptions.

“Obviously, if you are getting into the water from a dock, you aren’t wading in the muddy sediment, so that means it’s only that much more safe for boating,” he said.

Hrycyna said under the assumptions, they found that the sediment exposure levels all fell well under the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) levels and the more stringent Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) exposure levels.

He did say the sediments are different from bacteria levels in the water. MyRWA for the last two years has measured bacteria levels before and after rain events. Such events tend to bring overflows of raw sewage into the River, thus increasing bacteria levels for a few days in the water.

MyRWA has developed a flag system to let boaters know about the bacteria levels in the water, which is a different issue from historic pollutants trapped in River sediments.

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