Boston--Perchlorate levels in private well waters outside of Camp Edwards on Cape Cod have more than doubled in the past year, prompting a state cleanup order, according to documents released today by New England Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (New England PEER).
In a May 13, 2003 "Notice of Responsibility" sent to the U.S. Army Environmental Center at Camp Edwards, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) cites new "validated analytical data" showing that the levels of "perchlorate in a private supply well constitutes a release of a hazardous material resulting in a Condition of Substantial Release Migration and a Critical Exposure Pathway pursuant to" state toxic cleanup laws. The notice directs the Army to submit an "Immediate Response Action" by June 10, 2003, warning that "failure to meet this deadline may result in enforcement actions by the Department."
Perchlorate is a component of rocket fuel that has many other munitions-related uses. It is a possible carcinogen that affects thyroid function. Perchlorate contamination of groundwater has become a national problem, affecting 20 states in hundreds of locations.
The new perchlorate levels reported by the Army to DEP are 1.75 parts per billion (ppb), a level substantially above the state standard of 1 ppb. The premise behind the state standard is that consuming even one glass of contaminated water could be harmful to a pregnant woman or a small child. The new perchlorate levels are more than double the previous high levels (0.74 ppb) for the same area, suggesting that the chemical plume is migrating farther into residential areas surrounding the base.
In congressional hearings over the past two months, Pentagon officials have resisted calls to address reports of growing perchlorate contamination. Under Pentagon pressure the EPA has delayed setting a national standard for the chemical.
"The Pentagon is playing hide-and-go-seek with the public's health," commented New England PEER Director Kyla Bennett, a biologist who formerly worked in EPA's New England regional office. "Not just in Massachusetts but across the country, the Pentagon has been throwing up every possible obstruction to an honest assessment and remediation of what has become a perchlorate plague."
The state is able to take action because Massachusetts has its own perchlorate standard. The notice issued by DEP to Camp Edwards starts a cleanup process that agency employees estimate could take up to five years.