Trapped Under the Sea:
One Engineering Marvel, Five Men, and a Disaster Ten Miles into the Darkness
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". . . accepting the lowest bid on a public project can only lead to catastrophe."
In Trapped Under the Sea, journalist Neil Swidey takes us on a long and harrowing journey into the heart of a tragedy. This highly-detailed drama unfolds through the many eyes of the human beings involved, and all the while readers know there is nothing we can do to prevent their loss and pain, but we can’t help wanting to save them nonetheless.
It all begins in Boston Harbor, which by the 1990s had become a cesspool and a disgrace to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The Deer Island Outfall Tunnel was the answer. Essentially it is the world’s longest dead-end tunnel designed to carry treated sewer water nearly ten miles out into Massachusetts Bay. The treated water exits through 55 risers with diffuser heads that spread and slow the flow into the ocean. At the end of the monumental tunnel boring project, when all the utilities would be removed from the work site, a team of construction divers was sent in to remove the riser plugs in the oxygen-less darkness. Equivalent in danger to a space walk, the divers had to provide their own breathing air and perform difficult work in confined spaces. One wunderkind engineer’s decision to try an untested liquid gas mixing system proves fatal, and the why it was sanctioned in the first place becomes Swidey’s soap box, demonstrating how money concerns will always trump workers’ safety.
Politics, environmental stresses, demanding deadlines, and accepting the lowest bid on a public project can only lead to catastrophe. Trapped Under the Sea should be required reading for all in public service who routinely make these types of decisions.
Reviewer: Cindy A. Matthews