MassDEP Review 2019

I heard there is an issue at Bates regarding improper disposal of an agricultural growing solution. 

MIT takes seriously its commitments to ensuring that research conducted at Bates and other facilities adheres to environmental health and safety regulations and protocols. MIT is committed to working constructively with MassDEP and the Town of Middleton. 

Questions have been raised about prior research conducted by the Open Agriculture Initiative (OpenAg), an MIT Media Lab group that previously conducted research at Bates, and the manner in which the group handled spent growing solution. These concerns prompted a review of the OpenAg site at Bates by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP). On September 18, 2019, MIT’s Vice President for Research, Prof. Maria T. Zuber, halted OpenAg activities, pending completion of all ongoing assessments. 

On April 22, MassDEP concluded their review of OpenAg activities at Bates and fined MIT $25,125 for discharging spent plant growing solution and dilute cleaning fluids into an Underground Injection Control (UIC) well in violation of the conditions of the well registration terms, and impairing potential use of ground water as a source of potable water in violation of the provisions of MassDEP UIC Regulation 310 CMR 27.04(3). All Open Agriculture activities at Bates remained halted as of April 30, when the OpenAg Initiative at the MIT Media Lab closed permanently. As a result of this decision, MassDEP has suspended an additional requirement of the terms of the agreement that MIT submit a wastewater management plan for Open Agriculture activities and has suspended payment of a $10,125 portion of the fine, leaving MIT responsible for paying $15,000.

In addition to paying the $15,000, the Institute also agrees to close the well and to cease discharge of any plant nutrient and cleaning solution to the ground or to the registered UIC well. MIT will submit a plan for the closure of the well to MassDEP for their review and approval. 

I read that OpenAg is also under review for research misconduct. Is the MIT leadership involved in any review or concerned about that issue? 

As MIT’s Vice President for Research noted in a letter to The Tech, research integrity at MIT is paramount, and MIT will take all appropriate steps to address any concerns raised. However, processes in this regard are confidential and MIT policy does not permit commenting on any individual allegations.