Local clammer John Denehy and more than a dozen other clammers affected by the massive clam die-off in 2010, which they say was caused by a significant oil spill at Logan are now seeking damages in Federal Court.
Last week the clammers officially filed a lawsuit in United states District Court against Massport and Swissport/BOS Fueling, one of two fueling companies contracted to refuel airliners at Logan.
The complaint filed in court states that the clammers, who were licensed by Massport to harvest shellfish within the security perimeter surrounding Logan Airport, had for years dug soft shell clams at the Logan beds with great success. Two beds in particular, “Airport” and “Wood Island,” were more productive than the rest of the beds in Boston Harbor combined.
Between 2005 and 2010, the clam beds produced an annual average harvest of 3,145 racks of clams, worth $202,420.
In August 2010, the clammers dug clams from the Wood Island beds with good results.
Then in October of that year something went wrong.
The clammers have since drawn a correlation between an October 2010 jet fuel spill and the death of thousands of clams in the flats.
In his last 30 years of clamming on the clam flats that surround Logan, Denehy said he had never seen clams die off like they did in the final months of 2010.
The dead clams that Denehy collected across from Constitution Beach, in the area the clammers call the Wood Island Flats, were sent off to be tested by the state’s Marine Fisheries Department, the results came back that the clams died of neoplasia or clam cancer that killed off the majority of the clams. This cancer, in most cases, is caused by hydrocarbons found in jet fuel.
While Swissport was also unsure how much fuel was spilled according to the records obtained by the East Boston Times the documents showed that 463 gallons of a fuel/water mixture, 18 cubic yards of oily absorbents and 4 cubic yards of oily sludge was quietly cleaned up by Clean Harbor and sent to its facility in Braintree.
Usually when fuel is spilled the fueler reports the spill to his supervisor who reports it to the company in charge of fueling the plane. The company then reports the exact amount of fuel spilled to Massport who then reports it to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Affairs.
Logan has a series of outfalls that surround the airport and discharge rainwater from the runways but sometimes jet fuel and deicing agents that gets spilled at the airport are mixed in and discharged into the harbor. The state’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) allows for a certain level of these discharges but Denehy is convinced a massive jet fuel spill was the cause of the clam’s demise.
Records obtained by the Times shows that in October 2010, a month before Denehy found the dead clams, the DEP was notified of a jet fuel spill by Massport and Clean Harbor–a private agency charged with cleaning up environmental spills at Logan.
Sources at the airport have said that the spill was caused when a Swissport employee refueling an aircraft overrode the safety mechanism called the ‘dead man’ on the refueling hose, went back into the fueling truck and fell asleep. By the time he awoke hundreds, if not thousands of gallons of jet fuel had been spilled and later discharged into the harbor.
This practice, known in the industry as ‘Jamming the Dead Man’ is all too common practice at Logan Airport according to former Globe Ground Fuel Supervisor George DiCicco.
On the refueling pumps, DiCicco explained, is the ‘dead man’, which is a slang term used for the safety mechanism on the hose that forces fuel company workers at Logan to manually pump jet fuel into planes. If a worker becomes incapacitated for any reason and lets go of the hose the fuel will automatically stop pumping from the fueling truck because the worker has let go of the manual lever.
“The term dead man comes from the thought that if someone was refueling a plane and died while doing it the hose would stop working and there would be no jet fuel spilled,” said DiCicco.
However, many workers jam the safety mechanism with pen caps, rocks and other materials in order to override the safety system.
“I’d say about 90 percent of workers do it at least once,” said DiCicco. “When I was at Globe Ground we had two major spills because one of the workers jammed the dead man…in one case jet fuel was shooting out of the wings of the plane.”
With the unpredictable weather that usually befalls Logan and the North East, DiCicco said many workers do it because they don’t want to stand out in the rain, snow or cold for the 20-30 minutes it takes to refuel the plane. Other times it’s just simple laziness.
“Everyone knows about the practice,” he said. “Fuel company management, Massport…the thing is if you get caught jamming the dead man it’s suppose to be an automatic termination but most times it’s swept under the rug unless there is a major accident or spill.”
Shortly after the fuel spill that allegedly killed off the clams, Swissport was fined $90,000 by the state’s Environmental Protection Agency for failing to take adequate precautions to contain oil spills at Logan.
After the oil spill Logan bed clam landings plummeted. For example, 2011 landings from “Wood Island” numbered only about 49 racks, a 94% decrease from the 881 racks harvested in 2010. Similarly, 2011 landings from “Airport” were 499 racks, an 83% decrease from the 2,990 racks harvested in 2010.
This trend continued and worsened in 2012 and 2013. In a 2013 internal email, one official from the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries stated, “there is virtually nothing of consequence left to dig in Boston Harbor.”
“The death of soft-shell clams around Logan Airport has caused and will continue to cause substantial loss of sustenance, loss of revenue, and loss of earning capacity to individuals who cannot dig clams to make a living,” the complaint stated.
Massport met with Denehy and other clamdiggers to discuss the effects of the spill in a meeting on March 2, 2011.
“At that meeting and elsewhere the defendants have tried to downplay and conceal the severity of the spill and the effect it has had on local soft-shell clam populations,” the complaint read. “The defendants have still not publicly reported the amount of fuel that was spilled during the event in question.”
The United States Coast Guard investigated the spill in October 2010 as the federal on scene coordinator. The Coast Guard pollution investigators, upon information and belief, did not designate any responsible party at that time.
However, on August 13, 2013, in response to presentment of claims to the National Pollution Funds Center, the United States Coast Guard designated Massport and Swissport as responsible parties.