Volume 18, No. 3, Summer 2010
In its recent report on the safety of Cape Cod’s single source aquifer, Silent Spring researchers disclosed that a series of tests had discovered new contaminants in areas of our public drinking water supply and noted that septic systems likely were the main source of the pollution.
But that’s just the first phase of Silent Spring’s latest thrust in a long-standing campaign to identify and eventually eliminate potential environmental links to high levels of breast cancer on the Cape.
“Now,” according to Dr. Laurel Schaider, a Silent Spring research scientist, “we’re going ahead in a few different directions.”
The first, she told To Your Good Health, A Health Care Newsletter, “is to study private wells throughout the Cape where we expect levels of contaminents may be even higher.” She said funding for this study had been obtained thanks in large part to a $50,000 grant from the Massachusetts Environmental Trust, a long-time supporter that gains a major portion of its revenue from sales of its specialty state license plates. Testing will not begin until later this year with a report expected in 2011.
The second project stems from results of the recently completed study. “We’d like to follow up on the high levels of perflourinated chemicals found in firefighting foams and aviation hydrolic fluid that we discovered in the Hyannis water system downgradient from Barnstable Municipal Airport,” Doctor Schaider said. She indicated that the Cape Cod Commission was interested in cooperating on this project.
And, finally, there will be “the ongoing campaign of education on the connection between land use and water quality.”
Absent from the initial study announcement was whether any correlation had been found between elevated levels of the contaminents and higher rates of breast cancer. Dr. Julia Brody, executive director of Silent Spring, explained why no conclusions could be drawn at this point.
“It’s because breast cancer takes years to develop,” she said, “Exposure to current levels won’t be showing results until years in the future. It’s important to focus first on basic factors, establishing a set of baselines for future studies.”
The just-completed tests of 20 wells and two distribution systems supplying drinking water on Cape Cod found that 75 percent of the wells and both distribution systems had detectable levels of emerging contaminants such as pharmaceuticals and consumer product chemicals.
The study provided some of the first information in this country about impacts of septic systems on groundwater used for drinking water.
It stated that septic systems are the most likely source for most of the 18 chemicals detected and that some levels were among the highest reported in American drinking water, with the exception of a few cases of industrial contamination.
They stressed, however, that the water remained safe to drink and that bottled water also can be problematical [see box below].
However, Doctor Schaider noted that the test results “indicated that current policies are not adequate to prevent emerging contaminants from getting into drinking water.”
The researchers suggested that the test results “provide evidence to support efforts by Cape Cod communities to protect areas surrounding public wells by limiting development, buying up land, enforcing zoning restrictions and replacing septic systems with sewers.”
The nine communities that volunteered for the first-phase research were Barnstable, Brewster, Buzzards Bay, Chatham, Centerville-Osterville-Marstons Mills, Cotuit, Dennis, Falmouth and Hyannis.
Doctor Brody added that the campaign to establish environmental links to increased cancer risk finally has begun attracting increased national interest.
She recently testified at The President’s Cancer Panel May Conference on “Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk: What We Can Do About It” and some of her remarks were included in the final report.