Recommendations of the Outfall Monitoring Science Advisory Panel to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (Region 1) and Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection

The Outfall Monitoring Science Advisory Panel (OMSAP), including MIT Sea Grant researchers Judith Pederson (OMSAP Chair) and Julie Simpson, developed a set of white papers about three types of contaminants of emerging concern, as well as their transport and impacts in the ocean and marine ecosystems:

  • Per-and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS)
  • Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products 
  • Microplastics

>>View the publication: Framework for Understanding Contaminants of Emerging Concern in Marine Waters

Executive Summary

The [Framework includes] a set of reviews or white papers about three general types of contaminants of emerging concern (CECs) in domestic wastewater effluent, specifically as it applies to the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority’s (MWRA) outfall discharge into Massachusetts Bay. These reviews evolved from the discussions during a November 13, 2018 public workshop, 2300 Days at Sea: Monitoring the Impacts of the Outfall on Massachusetts Bay, hosted by MIT Sea Grant, Save the Harbor/Save the Bay, and the Outfall Monitoring Science Advisory Panel (OMSAP).

As part of its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit, MWRA has developed and implemented a monitoring plan to evaluate whether its discharge adversely impacts Massachusetts Bay. At the November 2018 workshop, participants were asked to review the 25 plus years of MWRA monitoring results, to evaluate whether the current monitoring questions are still relevant, and to determine whether other emerging questions or threats related to the outfall discharge should be addressed by the monitoring program. Attendees concluded that three categories of CECs—persistent or long-lived chemicals, pseudopersistent (short-lived but released frequently) compounds, and microplastics were potential risks for Massachusetts Bay. To better understand the issues associated with the three categories of CECs, OMSAP, a scientific panel that reports to Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MADEP) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), focused on developing white papers that included per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), a persistent organic chemical group of thousands of compounds; pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs), a diverse group of relatively short-lived, but consistently released chemicals; and microplastics (MPs), small plastic particles that persist for a few to 100s of years that were either manufactured or broken down from larger pieces and contain over 4,000 additives.

These reviews focus on the potential discharge of CECs from the MWRA outfall; their chemistry, sources, transport, fate and effect in the ecosystem; and their impacts to marine life and human health. EPA and MADEP have recently started adding monitoring requirements for six PFAS compounds to NPDES permits for wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) discharges 5 with new recommendations that 40 PFAS parameters are to be monitored in drinking water and receiving waters, however, currently there are no monitoring requirements for PPCPs, or MPs. >>View the full publication