Billy Juse

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Since the air in the tunnel was so toxic, the divers needed to bring their own air. But their air supply system, which had never before been used on a project, malfunctioned ? proving deadly for two divers. By the time it was completed, the outfall tunnel contained oxygen-starved, toxic air that would be deadly to anyone who breathed it. Credit: MWRA file photo

Since the air in the tunnel was so toxic, the divers needed to bring their own air. But their air supply system, which had never before been used on a project, malfunctioned ? proving deadly for two divers. By the time it was completed, the outfall tunnel contained oxygen-starved, toxic air that would be deadly to anyone who breathed it. Credit: MWRA file photo

Trapped In a Sewer Tunnel under Boston Harbour

?The plan was ambitious but simple: Build a 9.5-mile sewer tunnel hundreds of feet below the ocean floor to help clean up Boston Harbour. Five divers went deep, deep into the project for one final step – with deadly results.

This is their harrowing story…

Just over a quarter-century ago, Boston Harbour was infamous for being “the dirtiest harbour in America,” an open sewer that became a major issue in the presidential campaign of 1988. Today, Boston can boast of having the nation’s cleanest urban harbour. The key to that undisputed environmental triumph is a state-of-the-art wastewater treatment plant sitting on tiny Deer Island north of Boston, and an engineering marvel of an outfall tunnel.

Every day, that nearly 10-mile-long Deer Island Tunnel, built hundreds of feet below the ocean floor, carries up to 1 billion gallons of wastewater from the plant out into the deep Atlantic waters of Massachusetts Bay. And gravity, rather pumps or machines, is the force powering that flow.

The tunnel was billed as the longest single-entrance (or dead-end) tunnel in the world, and it is the largely unknown workhorse behind the multi-billion dollar court-ordered cleanup of the harbour that has transformed Boston. But at the end of a decade of construction, handled by some of the country’s top designers and contractors, the massive tunnel would not work until someone figured out how to tackle one final and extremely hazardous task.

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