Neponset Now Neater

Tuba Syeda and friends cleaning the banks of the Neponset River. - Photo by Carl Brooks

Tuba Syeda and friends cleaning the banks of the Neponset River. – Photo by Carl Brooks

Carl Brooks

Undaunted by chilly temperature and biting wind, more than 60 well-insulated volunteers gave the Neponset River a good cleaning. Working their way down the river at Pope John Paul Park, the volunteers picked up garbage and trash, drank coffee and cheered when a frontloader scooped up their mound of food wrappers, industrial debris, and assorted junk.

The Neponset River Cleanup was a project of UMass Boston’s Massachusetts Community Water Watch, a MassPIRG subsidiary overseen by the parent organization. Water Watch organizes river cleanups, water quality monitoring in local waterways and does educational outreach in community schools.

Dubbed the “First Annual Neponset River Cleanup,” the volunteer event prompted young people from all over Massachusetts and many UMB students to gather in Dorchester to get their hands dirty.

Therese D’Anna, coordinator for Water Watch, said the event had two purposes, “One, to beautify the river and give people a hands-on experience of their environment. The second is to educate people about mercury in our water supply.”

Mercury is a toxic metal that finds its way into the environment from coal-burning power plants and industrial waste. It does not decompose and collects in drinking water and edible fish. A neurotoxin, mercury is especially dangerous to children and pregnant women.

Water Watch is sponsored by MassPIRG and receives funding from the Massachusetts Service Alliance. The Neponset River Cleanup was completely organized by UMass Boston students in Water Watch with some assistance from the Neponset Watershed Association.

Chris Lindstron, campus program director for MassPIRG, said how “good it was that there is student involvement every step of the way.”

She also explained how bad some of he waterways in Massachusetts are.

“We have really crappy water. We have the second worst water quality …after New Jersey.”

Despite the gloomy state of Massachusetts water, the volunteers were cheerful and determined as they slogged through the dry winter rushes to scour the riverbank for Styrofoam, plastic, and metal waste.

Devon McDonough, who came with a group of friends from Cardinal Spellman High School in Brockton, was clear on why he was there, “Getting rid of trash, making it look nice, saving the environment.” Tall and lean, his face reddening in the cold March wind, McDonough said that the strangest thing he had found so far was a “Giant teddy bear. It was all waterlogged, too.”

McDonough said that he had heard about the program through educational outreach, and had decided, along with his friends, to join in.

UMB student and MassPIRG member Tuba Syeda said that the strangest thing she had found was the attitudes of polluters.

“I think the strangest thing is that it became such a mess in so little time. I feel that the community is not so responsible.”

Volunteers trickled in and gathered up trash in bags, which they dumped at the entrance to Pope John Paul Park. D’Anna estimated the crowd at 60 people, and praised their efforts. She also said that the Neponset River Cleanup was just a warm up for their Charles River Cleanup, which is “a huge event. We’ll have thousands of people there. That’s April 24-just under a month.”