ecoRI News - Chemical Cocktail Brewing in Region’s Waters

February 25, 2016

By Frank Carini

Excerpt: The ongoing tragedy of lead-tainted water having been shamelessly foisted down the throats of the Flint, Mich., population calls, rightly, into question the well-being of the country’s drinking-water supply.

Here in southern New England, our waters, from reservoirs to trout streams to popular beaches, are constantly stressed. As the region’s population grows and the climate changes, keeping water supplies suitable for consumption, cooking, bathing, fishing and swimming will require significant investments and vigilant management.

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A recent study by the Newton, Mass.-based Silent Spring Institute found that pollutants from household wastewater can make their way into private wells, and that backyard septic systems are likely to blame. The findings reinforce growing concerns about the health risks posed by unregulated chemicals in drinking water, according to study co-author Laurel Schaider.

In tests of water samples from private wells on Cape Cod, Silent Spring Institute researchers found 27 unregulated contaminants, including a dozen different pharmaceuticals, a variety of chemicals used in non-stick coatings, flame retardants and an artificial sweetener.

About 44 million U.S. residents get their drinking water from private wells, including about 20 percent of New England’s population. Since private wells tend to be shallower than public wells and are less frequently monitored, they also are more susceptible to contamination from local land-use activities.

On Cape Cod, that susceptibility is more profound, because the popular peninsula features sandy soils and a shallow aquifer with little rock or boundary layers.

Private well contamination, however, isn’t limited to Cape Cod. It’s an ongoing public health issue in many parts of the country, according to the Silent Spring Institute.

Water Research