Circle of Blue - Septic Systems Contaminate Drinking Water Wells on Cape Cod

January 28, 2016

By Brett Walton

Excerpt: Cape Cod, the hooked arm of land that flexes eastward from mainland Massachusetts, is the iconic New England vacation spot. Less glamorously, it is also the perfect laboratory to study the relationship between wastewater and groundwater contamination.

The peninsula, whose population of 215,000 more than doubles during the summer, has tight clusters of septic systems and shallow household drinking water wells. Both are placed, on the same parcel of land, in sand and gravel soils through which water easily flows. Combined, it is a recipe for contamination. That is exactly what researchers at the Silent Spring Institute have found.

They tested 20 household drinking water wells for 117 organic compounds in an area that uses exclusively septic systems or cesspools, which are backyard means of disposing toilet waste and water that goes down drains. The organic compounds are pharmaceuticals, personal care products, sweeteners, and certain chemicals used to stop fire. In the well water, the researchers detected 27 of the compounds, some of which have been found to interfere with hormonal development and reproduction in fish species. Health guidelines exist for only 10 of the compounds they detected.

The study was published on January 27 online in the journal Science of the Total Environment.

Private Drinking Water WellsWater Research