The harrowing story of
five men who were sent into a dark, airless, miles-long tunnel, hundreds of
feet below the ocean, to do a nearly impossible job—with deadly results
A quarter-century ago, Boston had the dirtiest harbor in
America. The city had been dumping sewage into it for generations, coating the
seafloor with a layer of “black mayonnaise.” Fisheries collapsed, wildlife
fled, and locals referred to floating tampon applicators as “beach whistles.”
In the 1990s, work began on a state-of-the-art treatment
plant and a ten-mile-long tunnel—its endpoint stretching farther from
civilization than the earth’s deepest ocean trench—to carry waste out of the
harbor. With this impressive feat of engineering, Boston was poised to show the
country how to rebound from environmental ruin. But when bad decisions and
clashing corporations endangered the project, a team of commercial divers was
sent on a perilous mission to rescue the stymied cleanup effort. Five divers
went in; not all of them came out alive.
Drawing on hundreds of interviews and thousands of documents
collected over five years of reporting, award-winning writer Neil Swidey takes
us deep into the lives of the divers, engineers, politicians, lawyers, and
investigators involved in the tragedy and its aftermath, creating a taut,
action-packed narrative. The climax comes just after the hard-partying D. J.
Gillis and his friend Billy Juse trade assignments as they head into the
tunnel, sentencing one of them to death.
An intimate portrait of the wreckage left in the wake of
lives lost, the book is also a morality tale. What is the true cost of these
large-scale construction projects, as designers and builders, emboldened by new
technology and pressured to address a growing population’s rapacious needs,
push the limits of the possible? This is a story about human risk—how it is
calculated, discounted, and transferred—and the institutional failures that can
lead to catastrophe. Download and start listening now!