By: Laurel Schaider and Cheryl Osimo
Excerpt: A major study that grabbed news headlines across the country this summer found that more than 6 million Americans nationwide are exposed to unsafe levels of highly fluorinated chemicals — PFOA and PFOS — in their drinking water. The study, which Silent Spring Institute co-authored, traced the sources of these contaminants to fire training areas, airports, industrial sites and wastewater treatment plants.
In other words, Cape Cod is far from alone in its struggle with contaminated drinking water. In May, after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency lowered its drinking water health advisory levels for the two contaminants, levels of perfluorooctanesulfonate, known as PFOS, in the Hyannis water supply were found to exceed the new federal guideline. Although officials took immediate steps to reduce the levels in tap water, and the do-not-drink advisory has since been lifted, the situation highlights the vulnerability of Cape Cod drinking water aquifers and the shortcomings in our approaches to drinking water protection. …
At Silent Spring, we found that wells with higher levels of nitrate generally have higher levels of contaminants of emerging concern, such as pharmaceuticals, flame retardants and other consumer product chemicals. Simply testing for nitrate levels can help determine to what extent a well might contain other contaminants.
Wells that have the highest levels of nitrate should be used less heavily and should be candidates for replacement in the future. The same goes for wells located close to landfills, airports or areas where firefighting foams or other products containing hazardous chemicals have been used. We should avoid introducing new wastewater discharges near water supplies, and consider providing town water in densely developed areas served by private wells with elevated nitrate levels.
Preserving open land around water supplies to protect drinking water quality is also key. And individually we can take steps to reduce our chemical footprint by using products that are safer and free of harmful chemicals.
But most important, we should learn from past examples of water contamination and not wait for chemical levels to exceed a guideline before taking action. We are all part of the water cycle, and we all need to protect this vital resource for the sake of our environment, our health and our children’s health.