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Student Guide | Cape Cod | Everglades | Los Angeles | Download PDF

Cape Cod:



Focus Question

The Interested Parties

Cape Cod's Unique, "Absorbent" Geology

Where Do Cape Codders Get Their Water?

Porosity, Permeability, and Ground Water

The Massachusetts Military Reservation - An Environmental Dilemma

The Facts About Septic Tanks, and Other Threats to the Cape's Ground -Water Quality

Ground-Water Cleanup - No Easy Task

The USGS's Toxic Substances Hydrology Program, or "How We Learned About the Ashumet Valley Sewage Plume"

The Harwich Solar Aquatic Septage Treatment Plant - the Neighbors May Have One Answer



The following excerpt from a book published by the Association for the Preservation of Cape Cod, an environmental group, explains the problem from the viewpoint of the people who live and work around the contaminated area.

From The Enemy Within: The Struggle to Clean Up Cape Cod's Military Superfund Site by Seth Rolbein. Chapter 1: A Watershed Place, A Watershed Moment, 1995.

"July 7, 1994. The dignitaries were seated under a blazing sun, the flat, broad landscape of the Massachusetts Military Reservation [MMR] broken by a small building behind them. Inside that building was the only respite from the heat, because huge tanks holding underground water stood in the shade, acting as air conditioners.

That wasn't why they were there, of course, to serve as multi-million-dollar air conditioners. Their purpose was something else entirely:

The water is being pumped out of the ground and held in these tanks so it can be treated. This water bears telltale remnants of pollution dumped decades ago. This water must now be filtered to remove poisons left from the past.

It was a fitting place to hold this ceremony, between hot sun and cool groundwater, beside the first small treatment plant on the giant base. The chairs and tables where politicians and military brass sat side by side, where community activists, newspaper reporters and television cameramen focused their attention, were all directly above one of many so-called "plumes" buried deep underground, a spreading pool of contamination no longer ignored or denied, one of many invisible catastrophes which have caused so much concern for thousands of people who live and work around Camp Edwards and Otis Air National Guard Base. This was the appropriate place because after more than a decade of study, argument, delay and frustration, Cape Cod was about to hear a promise: the federal government will spend hundreds of millions of dollars to try to stop these plumes from reaching even farther into the neighborhoods of Falmouth, Bourne, Mashpee, and Sandwich...

...Some of the people who have dedicated years to this effort, spent countless hours in meetings, labored over thousands of pages of documents, done everything from digging wells to lobbying officials to getting arrested, were sitting in the hot sun that July day... many of them seem to have vivid memories of their first steps down this long road, when they first realized that something was wrong at Cape Cod's military base:

Dr. Joel Feigenbaum, a mathematics professor at Cape Cod Community College, says that moment came in the early 1980s as he watched smoke and debris from a huge fire blowing over Sandwich, a fire caused by artillery shells exploding on a dry, windy day. He stood with a hose in his hand, protecting his house from sparks. He wondered why this was happening, and what else was going on inside the borders of the base...

For Bob Kreykenbohm, manager of the Sandwich Water District, the moment came later, in 1990. Water pumped from deep underground, below what looked like a pristine forest, foamed as it came to the surface. There was enough fuel coming out of the pipe to make a lit match flame. It didn't take long for him to suspect that the only thing that could have caused something so big, so disastrous, was the old pipeline that carried fuel through his town, from Cape Cod Canal to the base...

...For Ralph Marks, who now runs the Bourne Water District, the moment came as he pulled the plug and stopped Falmouth's public supply well from pumping water in the late 1970s. Even back then, he figured he knew where the contamination was coming from. It was coming from the same place where he had been serving his National Guard duty...

...For Denis LeBlanc [a hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey], who studies geology and underground water movement, the moment came more than 15 years ago, when he sank a test well into the sandy soil on the southern side of the base. As it turned out, he had put his first dart into the bulls eye: thousands of test wells and samples later, the Ashumet Valley plume would become studied, analyzed, and charted with more detail than virtually any other plume in the country...

...And so Cape Cod finds itself in the vanguard of what will be one of the most important environmental issues to face this country as we move into the next century..."

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Student Guide | Cape Cod | Everglades | Los Angeles | Download PDF

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