LETTER: Industrial Noise Pollution from Watertown Impacting Newton Neighbors

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Dear Watertown News editor,

I’m writing to ensure that you, and your readers, are aware of an issue at Watertown’s border. Industrial noise pollution is dominating the Charles River and the residential neighborhoods it borders. Those of us most affected have formed an association and reached out to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection seeking immediate help in ensuring the installation of noise-mitigation devices such as sound blankets and fan silencers.

The corridor of Pleasant Street along the Charles River has seen an expansion of noise-generating ventilation fans, chillers and evaporators among the commercial buildings directly on the Charles River. The businesses that directly border the Charles River and regularly generate noise include Griffith Properties, 580 Pleasant Street; Charles River Automotive, 594 Pleasant Street; and Arranta Bio/ReciBio, 650 Pleasant Street. Additional noise may be contributed by an ice rink in that area and other businesses as well. 

Although the noise is generated in Watertown, it must also be measured in Newton, including at the level of the second floor, where the sound carries sufficiently to destroy pre-existing levels of sleep, quality of life and property values.

The decibel levels are beyond the tolerated levels as defined in the Watertown town noise ordinance, the Newton town noise ordinance and 310 CMR 7.10. In addition to the disruption of our sleep, daily life and wellbeing, the noise dominates the experience of the many people on the Charles River Greenway (advertised as ‘a heart-healthy trail’) not to mention the unknown impact to the rich assortment of wildlife which uses this corridor to hunt, breed and migrate. 

Over the past year, we have repeatedly worked to address the noise issues with numerous stakeholders, including building owners, tenants, building fan installers, the Watertown town manager and the Watertown Board of Health, but the noise persists. We’ve worked directly with our state representative, our Newton city councilors, and the Watertown city council. Despite our yearlong efforts, participation from some of our elected officials, and our persistent outreach there has been a stunning lack of change in the noise level in the residential neighborhood along the Charles River in which these commercial entities have established their presence. 

I understand that a letter from Newton might be unexpected, but the challenge is that our cities share a border and neighborhoods, not to mention the tremendous resource that is the river and the greenway “heart-healthy” path. We need a unified voice and to work together to ensure that this recklessness is stopped.

Our health is at risk. New data shared in the New York Times this past June details how excessive noise takes years off of people’s lives by regularly inducing a cardiac response, even when in a rest state. We know that many solutions exist, from acoustic sound curtains, chiller blankets, mechanical adjustments, and the physical sound barriers that Watertown uses in many other locations;  yet we apparently can’t compel an adjacent city to take the necessary action.

Please join us in demanding a change by November 30, 2023.

North Newtonville Neighborhood Association


(Submitted by Amy Kropke, John Oliver, Cedar Pruitt, Andrew Lichtman and Melissa Prudhomme on behalf of the North Newtonville Neighborhood Association)

Letters can be sent to watertownmanews@gmail.com

16 thoughts on “LETTER: Industrial Noise Pollution from Watertown Impacting Newton Neighbors

  1. So Newton people imagine how much it sucks for us Watertown people…it’s not like we said, “hey developers could you build a bunch of monstrosities on the Charles that will remain vacant on the newton line so that our brothers and sisters in Newton get noise pollution.” Sorry it sucks for you, but hey, we’ve had to deal with it as well. Something tells me you’ll get the same response as we have….can’t fight city hall-deal with it and stop crying.

    • Chris, you seem like this issue hits home for you. By your tone and words you seem frustrated and bitter about the decisions in Watertown that have been made on your behalf. It has been my experience that many of Watertown’s residents are expressing similar thoughts. They say that as a community, we are not heard. Thanks for your input.

  2. If you have not, did you already reach out to Watertown residents to try to build a collation? Numbers do count as do member of not just one community but two. I would add that I am on the other side of the river from the building they are currently erecting in Newton and that too is very loud(I’m sure will have similar AC/Fan noise). Mitigation of these collective noise issues would probably be best done with more voices. I would try the West Watertown Pleasant St folks to see if they have a group too.

    • Hi Kate,

      Your words are both helpful and hopeful, although you too seem to express how hard it is for residents to get things done in this City. Both your words and Christopher’s, to me, are symptoms of a deep rooted problem that has gradually taken over our community. Because of the numerous governmental roadblocks that are put in our way, we residents have been trained to stay out of the way and let the City make all of the decisions without us. Frankly, it’s such a gargantuan task to get involved. And, Kate, if that building in Newton turns out the way you suspect it will, wouldn’t it be nice to have these people as allies for your neighborhood as well?

  3. We all need to show some empathy in response to a letter from some of our Newton neighbors. They are expressing some of the same concerns that many Watertown people have raised at recent community meetings regarding new labs and businesses that want to be based in Watertown near our neighborhoods.

    We should welcome comments for our neighboring cities, encourage them and see what knowledge they have, what they have attempted to do, (especially when Watertown businesses are creating the problems) and try to work together with a common goal.

    Similar to us, the Nonantum area of Newton is going through zoning issues that the locals are not happy to see. Their small businesses and neighborhood feel could be changed drastically too. Let’s help each other where we can.

    We should also expect that our city officials respond to issues of environmental concerns to people from here and elsewhere. With the lab/life science or manufacturing buildings increasing in our areas, we need to be sure that noise and emission issues are addressed and corrected to protect the health of our people and the quality of lives. Watertown needs to investigate what criteria are used in other cities and implement and impose the highest standards on developers who say they want to be good neighbors. Once these buildings are built, it is always more difficult to correct problems after the fact.

    The Cannistraro site lab is on the agenda for the Planning Board meeting tonight, October 11, at 7 p.m. in City Hall. This is another building that needs to be held to the highest standards regarding their emissions and noise levels. This building is very close to houses on Acton St. and the associated side streets going north to Main St. These people will be impacted by many aspects of this new development. PLEASE ATTEND THIS MEETING TO SUPPORT YOUR WATERTOWN NEIGHBORS and ensure that the Broder developer responds to their requests.

  4. As a Watertown resident, I’m with you. My neighborhood (on the other side of Watertown Sq) has dealt with noise from developments as well. Watertown is not great with noise. An attempt was made to update our noise ordinance some years back but didn’t get far. It is woefully outdated. The Planning Dept in Watertown is especially oblivious to adjacent neighborhood concerns and will not go to bat for you.

    Noise is insidious and deeply disturbing. Most people don’t realize that it does affect them. I am sorry that you haven’t gotten any solutions. Please keep at it—sometimes it takes years.

  5. I’d also like to address a comment made by Rachel Kaye on another Internet platform:
    Rachel, you and I had a lengthy conversation about children growing up with learning disabilities at a recent Watertown event. I urge you to research this topic before you speak about the Newton people being “kinda annoying.”

    If you do the research, you’ll find that noise pollution is being narrowed in on as a cause of some social/emotional conditions and learning disabilities in children. As you know, these conditions come at a great cost, emotionally to families, but also financially to school systems, because children with emotional and learning problems are more expensive to educate.

    • Hi Linda. I agree! Noise pollution is a big issue. My annoyance is more that Watertown residents are already raising the issue with little to no response. So I should not have put that on the residents of Newton. You are correct. I hope that clarifies.

      • Perfectly, Rachel. Thanks for the clarification. I think that we need to look past the (justified in my opinion) anger and see the folks in the North Newtonville Neighborhood Association as people with similar values towards building strong, healthy communities. Working together towards this goal wouldn’t be the worst thing that we could do.

        By the way, I hear that at City Hall, these folks and their letter are already being characterized (diminished) as being the work of “only one person.” Typical.

  6. It is totally inappropriate to bring someone who hasn’t commented on this letter into this conversation. It is clear that you do not know Rachel Kaye very well because if you did you would know that she has a PhD in Educational Measurement, Research, and Evaluation. So Research is her bailiwick. She is also on the board of the Watertown SEPAC (Special Education Parent Advisory Council) and Commission on Disability. So disability is a subject with which she has intimate knowledge. For Rachel, research and disability are not mere talking points to exploit. As any actual researcher would know, every piece of new data needs to be compared to the existing body of data, and that correlation must never be confused for causation. This is a pitfall that amateur researchers often fail to avoid.

    Full disclosure, I have known Rachel for three years and am on her election committee for School Committee. I am also on the steering committee for Housing for All Watertown (HAW) which wants to address the overhanging housing crisis in this area. We know change is hard and that growing pains are very uncomfortable. However, it is more effective to harness change because stopping change leads to stagnation and solves no issues.

    • Hi Rita,

      Did you notice that I said that Rachel and I had a lengthy conversation? It was quite complete, substantive, and personal. She was quite clear where she stood on this issue and why. That’s why her response was jarring to me. She has clarified her comments, and I’m fine with this.

      Case closed for both of us. How about you?

      • It wasn’t apparent that the conversation went into Ms. Kay being a research expert since your comments about her counter that. However, the main issue is bringing in persons that have nothing to do with the letter from Newton residents who are being disturbed by the noise coming from the lab by their neighborhood. Ms. Kay is brought up apropos of nothing as are persons with disabilities. Why confuse things? A point about noise level and impact to hearing would have been more fitting.

  7. Residents who complain about noise emanating from commercial/industrial properties should also recognize that those businesses have a right to operate as long as they’re not violating the law (e.g. noise ordinance). City government is responsible to BOTH residents and businesses, they can not favor one group over the other. The solution is to find ways to co-exist, and this may mean that residents will hear more noise than they heard in previous years before these businesses existed. The benchmark can not be “keep everything the same as it was for the past 50 years.” I see no proposals for co-existence in this letter or in any replies.

    • The proposal for co-existence was in the last two sentences of the letter so I’m not surprised that you did not see them. Quote: “We know that many solutions exist, from acoustic sound curtains, chiller blankets, mechanical adjustments, and the physical sound barriers that Watertown uses in many other locations”.

    • It’s not that difficult to do noise attenuation. It is true that Watertown’s noise ordinance is woefully out of date. It is quite reasonable to ask developers/operators to make best efforts to reduce noise pollution, just as we would not accept in the 21st century polluting the air or water as had been done in the past.

      Excessive noise will lower abutters property values. That’s not co-existence.

      “. . .keep everything the same as it was for the past 50 years.” This line is getting pretty tired and is an inaccurate portrayal of residents concerns.

  8. Perhaps it would be best to line the shores of the Charles River with 24 hour pickle ball courts to help drown out all the sounds. These courts would be lined with artificial field turf and illuminated with LED Floodlights.

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