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Wetlands are important to global ecosystems and are easily affected by changes in climate, soil properties, terrain, and human disturbances.  Blasting with chemical explosives is an expedient element in a developer's toolkit, but it harms wetlands and other hydrologically critical structures.

What is the purpose of the Wetlands Loss Project?

Wetlands have been misunderstood for many years, viewed as swampy areas to be drained and converted to other uses. We now understand the important role wetlands play in our ecosystem. In order to protect this valuable land, MassDEP began compiling aerial photographs of the state to track the alteration and loss of wetlands. By comparing the photos,  MassDEP can more effectively enforce the Wetlands Protection Act to restore devise better strategies to prevent the destruction of these valuable resource areas. You can see the entire map at the MassGIS website.

What kinds of land development impact wetlands the most?

MassDEP has identified four major types of land development that can make the most impact on wetlands:

  • Cranberry bogs 

  • Residential development 

  • Commercial development 

  • Gravel operations


What do wetlands do that makes their impact so important?

  • Wetlands are complex ecosystems that provide valuable services to humans and animals alike.

  • Wetlands protect our water supplies by recharging ground and surface waters and filtering contaminants.

  • Wetlands help control flooding by storing water during storm events and slowly releasing it into surface and ground waters.

  • Wetlands protect us from storm damage by serving as natural buffers.

  • Wetlands improve the quality of our rivers, streams and lakes by filtering and reducing pollutants before reaching these water bodies.

  • Wetlands are important wildlife habitat that provides food, shelter, breeding areas, and migration corridors for both wetlands and uplands wildlife.

  • Wetlands are beautiful areas of open space that provide enjoyment and increase property values.

According to an abstract analysis posted on Elsevier, the value of wetlands, globally and locally, must be of concern to us all.  “Wetlands are of exceptional global importance and are also the most endangered ecosystems in the world (Dudgeon et al., 2006). Wetlands, as unique ecosystems in which land and water interact, are important habitats for species and play significant roles in water purification, water conservation, and climate regulation (Gibbs, 2000Mitsch and Gosselink, 2000). The characteristics of the water-land ecotone make wetland ecosystems very fragile, resulting in a reduction in wetland areas (Zedler and Kercher, 2005). It has been reported that 50% of the world's wetlands have disappeared due to social and economic development and climate change.


Dangers of Blasting

(Information provided and reproduced with the permission of neighborhood area resident Suzanne Pasko)

 Wetlands are harmed by three forces:  polluted run-off, chemicals, and hydrologic alterations; blasting with chemical explosives does all three.

On August 10, Suzanne spoke about three of the chemicals that are used in blasting:  hexahydro (cyclonite), trinitrotoluene, and perchlorates.  There are specific health risks and levels of toxicity for each and are classified as Hazardous Substances by the DEP, EPA, and NIOSH. Each of these chemicals have significant long-term adverse effects to the wetland ecosystem.


1. Hexahydro 1, 3, 5 (Cyclonite)

  • When you work with hexahydro, you need to wear neoprene gloves and Tyvek coveralls in addition to a face shield and respirator.  

  • Exposure to hexahydro 1, 3, 5 can cause liver damage, kidney damage, as well as harm to the nervous system.  

  • The state of New Jersey requires anyone who works with hexahydro 1, 3, 5 to have an annual liver and kidney function test.

  • According to the Right to Know Hazardous Substance List, hexahydro 1, 3, 5 “This substance is harmful to aquatic organisms.”

  • Hexahydro is insoluble, meaning it does not dissolve and will stick around at the detonation site.​

2. Trinitrotoluene

  • To work with trinitrotoluene, you need to wear butyl gloves and a tychism suit.  

  • This is a substance that causes bladder cancer in animals and is believed to be a possible carcinogen to humans.  It an also cause damage to the liver and nervous system.

  • According to the Right to Know Hazardous Substance List, trinitrotoluene is “toxic to aquatic organisms and may cause long term effects.”


 ​3. Perchlorates, with an emphasis on potassium perchlorate

  • The Commonwealth has issued warnings about perchlorates, and they have been found in areas where chemical blasting agents have been used.  Perchlorates are soluble and highly mobile in water – they persist, according to Massachusetts data, for decades under typical ground and surface water conditions.  

  • Perchlorates are a forever chemical and have been detected in local produce and human breast milk.  Perchlorates affect thyroid function in humans and human fetuses.

  • When contractors are blasting with chemical explosives, not all the explosive load is consumed by detonation.  Even when 99.9% of the load is consumed, “substantial amounts of high explosives remain as UXO” or can get deposited in the area as particles following detonation.  These chemicals stick around and are known as forever chemicals like PFAS.


Won J, Borden RC. Impact of glycerin and lignosulfonate on biodegradation of high explosives in soil. J Contam Hydrol. 2016 Nov;194:1-9. doi: 10.1016/j.jconhyd.2016.08.008. Epub 2016 Sep 7. PMID: 27669376.

When contractors blast with chemical explosives, they are blasting to have a quick, cheap, and dirty solution to rock removal.  When most people think about blasting, they think about the noise and the vibrations, often overlooking the fact that the big boom is actually caused by a violent, incendiary chemical reaction.  These chemical reactions are fueled by chemicals like:  Ammonium Nitrate, Fuel Oil, Pentaerythtrol Tetranitrate,  Hexahydro 1, 3, and 5, Trinitro 1, 3, and 5, Triazine  CRDX, Nitroglycerin, Nitrocellulose


Perchlorates  - sodium perchlorate, ammonium perchlorate and potassium perchlorate

The Department of Environmental Protection in Massachusetts re-issued a memo in December 2017 about the environmental contamination caused by perchlorate-containing explosive products. Perchlorates found their way into public water supply wells in sites across Massachusetts, and blasting contractors are still using them throughout the commonwealth.


Chemical explosives like perchlorates are toxic contaminants.  They are highly soluble and travel significant distance in groundwater.  They persist in the environment, and this is a particular concern as they rapidly accumulate in wetland plant life.  It is critical to note that there are no efficient degradation pathways for the chemicals used in blasting.  


Given that the town is still grappling with the legal, financial, and health-related aftermath of PFAS or forever chemicals contamination, we can not overlook the implications of continuing to pump more toxic chemicals directly into our wetlands and waterways.  Wellesley is at a critical moment in its history to protect our remaining wetlands and blasting near our wetlands continues to pose a significant environmental risk.

Wetlands located at Cliff Road (489 Worcester)

Example of what happens to wetlands when, in the state of Washington,  a contractor expanded a housing development.  It will take up to 50 years to restore.

What can YOU do to protect the Wetlands in the Cliff Estate area?

Attend every Wetlands and Planning Board meeting to advocate for prohibiting the use of chemical explosives in wetland areas.

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