Plastic Disks in the Merrimack River



Ed Coletta (MassDEP) 617-292-5737

Julia Hurley (MDPH) 617-624-5006
 Update on Plastic Disks in the Merrimack River and Washing Up Along the Coast of Massachusetts and New Hampshire  

Plastic Mesh Disks Tested by MassDEP Show Low or No Levels of Bacteria; Patrick-Murray Administration will Deploy Workers to Continue the Cleanup Tomorrow

BOSTON – Additional testing by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) of the 2-inch-diameter thin flat white plastic disks that have been showing up in the Merrimack River and coastal beaches from Seabrook, N.H. to Manchester-by-the-Sea showed some bacteria, but at ranges that do not exceed levels of concern. 

Although the disks show either no or low levels of bacteria, out of an abundance of caution, MassDEP and Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MDPH) advise that residents should treat the disks like any litter and avoid contact with the disks unless taking proper precautions. If picking up or handling the disks, the public should wear protective plastic gloves and thoroughly wash hands, and make sure not to put your fingers in your mouth, eat, drink or touch your eyes before washing your hands. Also, do not allow children to play with the disks, and do not allow pets such as dogs and cats to come in contact with the disks.

In addition, the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) is coordinating disk cleanup efforts and is deploying staff of the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) to affected ocean beaches tomorrow. DCR crews will be on the beaches tomorrow, working in coordination with the forecasted high and low tides.  

“The low levels of bacteria are typical of those present in any form of litter or debris that washes up on beaches,” said MassDEP Commissioner Kenneth L. Kimmell. “However, to be cautious, people should not pick up the disks without wearing gloves or allow children or pets to play with them since, like any beach litter, they should not be handled.”

“MDPH supports the recommendations of MassDEP and will continue to work with them to monitor the situation,” said MDPH Commissioner John Auerbach.


As reported earlier this week, the Town of Hooksett, N.H confirmed that the disks were released into the Merrimack River from the Hooksett wastewater treatment facility on March 6, 2011 following heavy rainstorms. Current estimates are that millions of the disks have been released to the Merrimack River and are now present along nearby Massachusetts and New Hampshire river banks, coastal areas and beaches.

EEA and its agencies, along with emergency management representatives from impacted coastal and Merrimack River communities, are coordinating disk cleanup efforts and working with the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services on overall response.

If residents help with their community’s clean up or they wish to do some beach cleanup on their own, gloves (such as latex gloves) should be worn to pick up the disks. No additional equipment or clothing is required. Disks and gloves should be placed in plastic bags and disposed of in the trash for regular disposal as solid waste. When they are done, hand gels may be used, but hand-washing with soap and water for a minimum of 20 seconds is preferred. Clothing worn during the cleanup work should be laundered as normal.    

MassDEP is responsible for ensuring clean air and water, safe management and recycling of solid and hazardous wastes, timely cleanup of hazardous waste sites and spills, and the preservation of wetlands and coastal resources

Commonwealth of Massachusetts • Deval Patrick, Governor • Tim Murray, Lieutenant Governor
Executive Office of Energy & Environmental Affairs • Richard K. Sullivan Jr., Secretary
Department of Environmental Protection • Kenneth L. Kimmell, Commissioner
One Winter Street • Boston 02108 • (617) 292-5500 •