Washington, DC — Massachusetts’ plan to streamline permits to allow continuing industrial discharge of pollutants into groundwater is seriously flawed and risks contaminating drinking water supplies, according to formal public comments filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). While intended to encourage reuse of wastewater, the state plan sacrifices protection of both surface and ground waters quality in order to maximize underground disposal of wastes.
The major failures of the plan unveiled by the state Department of Environmental Protection concern the secondary status assigned to public health safeguards, including –
- Current industrial water polluters will be allowed to continue discharging into groundwater influencing drinking water wells (called “Zone II”);
- The plan lacks any coherent enforcement provisions, despite that fact nearly half of the sewage treatment plants with groundwater permits are already in significant noncompliance; and
- Pharmaceuticals and other chemicals which do not yet carry toxic health advisories are completely ignored, meaning that water supplies can be contaminated with ever greater concentrations of medications, hormones, dietary supplements, and cleaning agents.
“Under this plan, there must practically be a public health emergency before the state could step in,” stated New England PEER Director Kyla Bennett, a lawyer and former EPA biologist. “Governor Patrick’s ‘permitting at the speed of business’ mantra seems to place industrial convenience above public health.”
Compounding the risks posed by water reuse plan are planks that make it more difficult for the public to track industrial discharges and water quality, most notably –
- Elimination of existing monitoring requirements for both industrial wastewater producers and for the sewage plants receiving those wastes;
- Absence of any meaningful public notice provisions so that people can find out about major changes in both pollution discharge permits and treatment conditions; and
- Imposition of fees on public requests for fact sheets and permit submissions. By contrast, industry would not be charged for this same information.
“Citizens’ right to know what is going into their taps is treated as an annoyance,” Bennett added. “Common sense dictates that liberalizing pollution recharge rules should trigger stronger not weaker monitoring of what is in the water.”
Tomorrow marks the close of the public comment period on the plan, which was first announced on March 28th.