After testing raw water from more than 20 wells, 6 ponds fed by underground springs and 2 public distribution systems on Cape Cod, Silent Spring researchers found measurable levels of 18 chemicals including 9 pharmaceuticals, flame retardants, personal care products, detergent chemicals, even measurable levels of Deet, which is a potent mosquito repellent; Blood pressure meds, anxiety medication, statin drugs, and more. They also tested 139 streams and found some of these chemicals in 80% of them! Apparently, who needs a prescription? How did these chemicals get in the water? Septic systems are the most likely source for most of them.
What brought this issue to my attention was a wellness fair on Cape Cod which I attended recently sponsored by a wonderful cancer research and advocacy group called Silent Spring Institute. I heard a talk by their lead researcher, Laurel Standley, about the dangers posed by pharmaceutical drugs and other “emerging contaminants” they found in the groundwater all over the Cape. Ms. Standley suggested that people could probably protect themselves by using a solid carbon block filter. The Silent Spring Institute in Newton is using a MULTIPURE system, and the Water Quality Association is on record saying that activated charcoal filters are a good way to address this kind of problem.
We refer to them as emerging contaminants because scientists are just beginning to find them in trace amounts. Public monitoring for these pollutants are not yet required and there are no current regulatory standards. We just don’t know enough, but thanks to Silent Spring we are learning more. Since many Americans get their drinking water from public and private wells, these findings could represent another canary in the mine. Bring to mind Rachel Carson? Erin Brokovich? Woburn? Love Canal?
Here’s the background for the study: Breast cancer rates on Cape Cod are higher-than-expected relative to the larger US population. Silent Spring researchers are looking at potential causes and correlations, including the presence of environmental pollutants such as hormone-disrupting chemicals in the water. Scientists know that such substances, also referred to as “estrogen-imitators” can cause sterility, disease and even genetic aberrations in frogs, fish and other aquatic creatures and we understand that increased levels of estrogen have the potential to accelerate some cancers in humans.
85% of Cape Cod’s businesses and residents directly utilize septic systems. The Cape has a shallow water table and pourous, sandy, acidic soil so the aquifer is particularly vulnerable to wastewater discharged by all those septic systems. By plotting the location of those wells and nearby septic systems and then testing the water, it is possible to reasonably establish the correlation. Pharmaceuticals get into the groundwater either because our bodies excrete unabsorbed drugs or because we flush unused drugs down the drain. Through our bodies, down the toilet, into the septic tank and eventually back into the water which feeds our wells, ponds and streams. We all do it! Septic systems usually take out bacteria before discharging the wastewater but they do not remove phramaceuticals. These trace amounts (parts per trillion) may or may not be harmful. Like all pollutants, they may have a bigger effect on the more vulnerable such as children, pregnant women, the elderly and the immuno-compromised.
If you don’t use a filter, YOU are the filter!
Silent Spring Institute began in 1994, after members of the Massachusetts Breast Cancer Coalition called for a scientifically sound investigation into elevated breast cancer rates on Cape Cod. They founded “a laboratory of their own” and named it Silent Spring Institute in tribute to Rachel Carson, whose landmark book, Silent Spring, launched the modern environmental movement. Carson died of breast cancer just two years after the book was published. For more info about Silent Spring, go to www.silentspring.org
29 Crafts Street, Newton, MA 02458