Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Assabet Cleanup 2019

The 33th Annual River Cleanup took place on September 14, 2019. Teams volunteers were assigned locations along the Assabet, Sudbury and Concord rivers. In Maynard alone, decades of annual river clean-ups organized by the Organization for the Assabet, Sudbury and Concord Rivers (OARS) have removed tons upon tons of trash. This year, the focus was on trash, plus invasive and riverview-obstructing plants at Tobin Park, just west of the Rail Trail bridge.

One visible gain from cleaning up the Assabet River is that progressively, over the years, less new trash ends up in the river. The “broken window theory,” first in print in 1982, holds that vandalism is contagious, i.e., unrepaired vandalism triggers more vandalism, and perhaps more controversially, triggers an increase in more serious crimes. In theory, zero tolerance for small crimes reduces the rate of large crimes. Whether true or not for criminal behavior, littering is clearly contagious – the more litter remains visible, the more likely people will litter more.

Tobin Park, Maynard, 2019 Assabet River cleanup. Click photos to enlarge. 
This appeared to be a watershed year (pun intended), as Maynard had more volunteers than trash to be removed from the river. Past years had yielded as many as 100 car and truck tires, plus bicycles, shopping carts, and tons of iron pipe, scrap metal, broken pottery, old carpets and miscellaneous junk. This year, only two tires, one Styrofoam cooler and an estimated total of less than 200 pounds of glass, metal and plastic. Clearly, less and less is being thrown into the river each year. Hurrah! Similar results were reported for other towns.    

Glass bottle, 1953: CALDWELL'S RUM
Past years have also included intact glass bottles with a bit of history. From 2010, the find was a bottle inscribed HALF PINT LIQUID, HANS ERIKSEN, MAYNARD, MASS. The name’s spelling dates the bottle, because it was after World War II that the family, which was then also in the milk delivery business in addition to ice cream, changed their name from Eriksen to Erikson. From 2013 the find was an amber glass pint bottle embossed with the words CALDWELL'S RUM and the image of a three-masted sailing ship alongside a dock. The company had been started by Alexander Caldwell in 1790. Markings on the bottom signified that the bottle had been made for Caldwell's Rum in 1953 by the Anchor Hocking Glass Company. The yield from 2016 was a plain glass bottle with NEW ENGLAND VINEGAR WORKS embossed on the bottom. Turns out NEVW began its life in 1865 in Somerville as the Standard Vinegar Company. The name was changed to New England Vinegar Works in 1907. Another old find was a small bottle embossed with TURNER CENTRE SYSTEM, representing a dairy bottling and home delivery company active 100 years ago. 

As to the means by which thousands upon thousands of glass bottles ended up in the stretch of the Assabet as it wended it way through Maynard, think bridges and backyards, and the opinion that anything disposed into the river went "away." This is not a new problem. From the 1913 Annual Report of the State Board of Health "The Assabet River has at various times been seriously polluted in different parts of its course, the most serious condition in recent years below Maynard where the river receives sewage and manufacturing waste from a very large woolen mill and a considerable quantity of sewage also from the town... the river continues to be objectionable in appearance and odor, especially below Maynard."

Click on image to enlarge. Cumulative score for lower
Assabet River is a B. Weaknesses in yellow. Bacteria is a
planned future score, hence grey.
Going forward, OARS may consider its means of using volunteers for its fall event. Recently, a river health Report Card was created to assess the health of the three rivers, with each river divided into upper river and lower river sections. Based on twenty criteria listed at, the Assabet from headwaters to Elizabeth Brook, in Stow, was graded C+ and the lower Assabet – from Elizabeth Brook to the convergence with the Sudbury River – was graded B. Weaknesses include dissolved nitrates in the water (from fertilizer runoff and effluent from wastewater treatment plants), floating biomass (algae and duckweed on the surface) and aquatic connectivity (because the Ben Smith and Powdermill dams prevent wildlife movement up and down river). In the future the OARS Cleanup may expand to sending crews out to improve river-bordering trails, passability and riverviews. There are no current plans to remove any of the dams on the upper or lower Assabet.

Photos for this year's effort will posted at the OARS website.

No comments:

Post a Comment