Of all the Earth’s water, 97% is salt water found in oceans and seas.
The Storm Drain Stenciling Program is an activity sponsored by the Boston Water and Sewer Commission (BWSC) in conjunction with students and community residents to identify the negative impacts on our waterways and harbor when pollutants are illegally and/or carelessly discarded on Boston streets.
Groups of 10 to 15 persons, ages 8 and up, can participate. During this activity, participants will learn about the storm drainage system, what a storm drain is and how the storm drains, also known as catch basins, in the street work. They will learn about some common pollutants and how improper disposal of these pollutants can affect our waterways (Neponset River, Mystic River, Charles River and Boston Harbor.) They will also help prevent pollution by stenciling a warning on catch basins that flow directly into waterways or the harbor. But most of all - it is fun!
Stormwater, rain and melted snow, is directed into the storm drainage system in the streets. Unlike sanitary wastewater from our homes, stormwater does not require treatment; and it is discharged into our waterways and the harbor. BWSC’s storm drainage system consists of approximately 424 miles of storm drain, 201 storm drain outfalls and 19,708 catch basins. While catch basins prevent many pollutants from entering a storm drain pipe, some pollutants such as motor oil and pet waste can enter a drain and flow directly into our waterways or the harbor. These pollutants can seriously harm aquatic life and degrade water quality, resulting in beach closures and restricted use of rivers and the harbor.
In an effort to stop this unnecessary and harmful pollution of Boston’s precious water resources, BWSC initiated the Storm Drain Stenciling Program. BWSC works with local schools, neighborhood groups and environmental groups to organize and participate in this program. Participants stencil a “Don’t Dump” message next to catch basins using non-toxic paint. This message alerts potential polluters to the fact that what they dump goes directly into one of our rivers or the harbor. This message makes people think twice and dispose of their waste in a responsible manner.
If you would like to initiate a group stenciling event in your school or neighborhood, hosted by BWSC, you must have 10 to 15 people, ages 8 and up. BWSC requires at least 2 weeks notice. Please contact Jeanne Richardson, Community Services Department, at 617-989-7000.
If, however, you need to organize a group quickly or during non-business hours, BWSC has developed the “Stencil on Your Own Program”. This program is often organized by large groups and is implemented as an environmental or community service for a particular group. The group leaders receive a package containing instructions, supplies and a map of the basins to be stenciled. To learn more about this program, contact Jeanne Richardson at Community Services Department, 617-989-7000.
Used motor oil in particular is a significant polluter. Petroleum hydrocarbons and heavy metals found in used motor oil pose a direct threat to fish and other aquatic species. Each year, Americans illegally dispose of over 200 million gallons of used motor oil, which is equal to 19 Exxon Valdez oil spills. In Massachusetts, it is estimated that 3.6 million gallons of used motor oil are disposed of improperly each year. Used motor oil is the single largest source (over 40%) of oil pollution in US harbors and waterways. One gallon of used motor oil can create an eight acre slick on surface water, threatening fish and other aquatic life. Used oil contains toxic chemicals and heavy metals which cause sever pollution and can kill the microorganisms that form the base of the marine food chain. Massachusetts Law requires retailers to take back used oil, as long as it is accompanied by a receipt. (so, save those receipts!!!) In addition, used oil can be turned in at a community oil recycling center or on household hazardous waste collection days.
Used paint products such as latex paint, oil paint, stains/varnished or paint thinner should never be poured down a catch basin. For latex paint, only, if the container is less than half full, let dry and place in the trash. All other paint products should be brought to a recycling center or to a household hazardous waste collection center. Also, the City has a Paint Swap Shop where you can drop off paint which is in good condition or select a paint product for your home decorating project. Both interior and exterior paints and stains are available.
Pet waste disposed of into catch basins can release fecal coliform bacteria into Boston’s water resources. This bacterium is an indicator of potentially harmful micro-organisms that can cause severe illness in humans, close beaches and restrict access to waterways. Please remember to always clean up after your pet.
When left in the gutter or dumped into the storm drains, yard waste travels directly into the waterways or the harbor. Once in the waterways or harbor, yard wastes decompose rapidly. This process adds excessive nutrients to our waterways, which is detrimental to the environment. Yard wastes also clogs storm drains, rendering them ineffective and causing excessive water buildup.
Antifreeze is a highly toxic chemical that biodegrades extremely slowly in the environment. It is poisonous to people, as well as to animals. Less than a teaspoon can be lethal to small animals such as fish, birds and the family pet. Antifreeze can also be fatal to animals that live or drink from contaminated stream, lakes or gutters.
Cigarette butts are not biodegradable. The filters are made of a form of plastic; therefore, they may exist in the environment longer than other forms of plastic. In addition, marine creatures that live in the harbor may mistake them for food, which poisons them. An estimated 4.5 trillion butts are littered every year and the toxic chemical in the cigarette butts create a hazardous environment for our waterways and harbor. Please be responsible and dispose of these butts into a proper trash receptacle.