Charlton, Southbridge see water line as answer to contaminated wells

by Brian Lee, originally posted on April 27, 2016


The state has not definitively assigned responsibility for contaminated private wells in Charlton near the Southbridge landfill, but representatives of both towns and the landfill operator met this week to discuss a solution: public water from Southbridge.

The state Department of Environmental Protection has named Casella the potential responsible party for the contamination of residential wells in Charlton with 1,4-dioxane, which is used as a solvent in many household products. The federal Environmental Protection Agency classifies it as a probable human carcinogen and says that short-term inhalation exposure to high levels of it causes vertigo, drowsiness, headache and irritated eyes, nose, throat and lungs in humans. It may also irritate skin.

Charlton Town Administrator Robin L. Craver told selectmen Tuesday she met with Southbridge Town Manager Ronald San Angelo and Casella Waste Systems representatives that day, and although Casella has not committed to installing municipal water lines in the H Foote Road area, the company is investigating the possibility.

“They are doing some preliminary work and modeling,” Mrs. Craver said. “They are moving along to see what it would take to put water out there.”

In an interview Wednesday, Mr. San Angelo said Southbridge is willing to help with the contaminated wells, regardless of whether the contamination is coming from Charlton or Southbridge. Southbridge already sells water to Charlton elsewhere in town.

“That is as a public utility service,” Mr. San Angelo said, adding that “the big question is, we don’t know the source of the contamination.”

Mr. San Angelo said “everybody is speculating as to where the contamination might be coming from,” but the Tuesday meeting had nothing to do with that, nor who would pay for a possible water line.

“All of us believe one of the solutions is to use Southbridge water and get it to those homes,” he said.

He added: “It’s going to be very expensive to do those water lines. At some point in the future, when more things are understood, how that gets paid for and how that’s done is going to be determined. Right now, we just want to explore the ways that we can help Charlton resolve the issue.”

Residents of Southbridge, Charlton and Sturbridge have already asserted that the landfill at 165 Barefoot Road in Southbridge is the source of contamination.

In January, a group of Charlton residents and advocacy groups went to a state environmental office with more than 2,000 signatures in opposition to a planned expansion of the Southbridge landfill, which would add about eight years of capacity to the facility. The plan calls for the installation of a landfill liner on 5.7 acres in Southbridge and 5.2 acres in Charlton.

In the face of the contamination, MassPIRG staff lawyer and Sturbridge resident Kirstie L. Pecci called the expansion plan “ridiculous and insulting.”

Conversely, Dean Cook, who recently resigned from the Southbridge Board of Health, told a reporter last week that the evidence doesn’t support that Casella is at fault, because the highest concentrations of contamination in Charlton are farthest from the landfill. “If you say that, they act like you strangled a puppy in front of them,” Mr. Cook asserted, adding that despite his resignation, he would continue “to tell the truth.”

Meanwhile, Casella’s 120-day provision of “courtesy” bottled water was set to elapse this month. But the waste management company extended it 60 days, at the request of Charlton Board of Health Chairman Matt Gagner, who had asked for another 120 days.

Casella spokesman David Mancuso said 29 homes receive bottled water, but the context around each recipient is critical.

Of the 29, there are 10 that receive DEP-required bottled water, but importantly, not all of the homes have levels of contaminants in their well water that exceed regulatory drinking water levels, Mr. Mancuso said.

The DEP has required providing bottled water for homes where contaminants have been detected, even if they are below the state health guidelines. Four of the 10 residences have one or two concentrations that exceed the drinking water guideline for 1,4-dioxane; the other six locations are receiving bottled water because of what Mr. Mancuso called the presence of compounds above non-detect levels.

Mr. Mancuso added that two of the four locations with concentrations that exceed regulatory standards have been provided treatment systems.

He also spoke of “seemingly endless hyperbole” surrounding the landfill, especially regarding concentrations of 1,4-dioxane in local wells.

In regard to what he called “the fear” being raised about 1,4-dioxane in pool water, Mr. Mancuso gave figures for the level reported in a pool in Charlton and the Connecticut standard for pool water. Casella later said it does not have data about the amount of 1,4-dioxane in pool water in Charlton, and that it should have referred to the Connecticut standard for water for showering and bathing, which is 50 parts per billion.

Mr. Mancuso also discussed the concentrations of 1,4-dioxane in public water supplies of other Massachusetts municipalities, compared to what is being seen in Charlton wells. Casella later said its spokesman had stated incorrect information about that, and that 1,4-dioxane in excess of 0.07 micrograms per liter was detected in 11.3 percent of samples collected from Massachusetts municipalities with public water supplies.

Mr. Mancuso added that concentrations of 1,4-dioxane in consumer products include shampoo, at 50,000 to 300,000 parts per billion, liquid/dishwashing soap (2,000-65,000 ppb); baby lotion (11,000 ppb); hair lotions (47,000-108,000 ppb), bath foam (22,000-41,000 ppb) and cosmetics (6,000-160,000 ppb).

He said it can also be found in manufactured food additives at the 10,000-ppb level, and in shrimp, chicken, tomatoes, coffee and some condiments.

The state itself, he said, “suggests that to contribute to cancer in one out of 1 million people, a person would have to consume more than two liters of water that contained 1,4-dioxane above the 0.3 ppb guideline, every day, for 70 years.”

Mr. Mancuso said that by no means was the company suggesting that Casella not pay attention to the concentrations of any and all contamination in wells. But the state has a 1,4-dioxane drinking water guideline set at 0.3 parts per billion, while Casella must report concentrations of 0.15 to 0.2 parts per billion.

He said it is also noteworthy that the two wells where a concentration of the contaminant trichloroethylene, or TCE, was found were considerably “upgradient” from the landfill.


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