Silent Spring Starts New Study of Eco-Toilets

Dr. Laurel Schaider, right, and Janet Ackerman give a presentation at Barnstable Town Hall yesterday.

Dr. Laurel Schaider, right, and Janet Ackerman give a presentation at Barnstable Town Hall yesterday.

BARNSTABLE – Perfluorinated chemicals – persistent, toxic chemicals found in household products and commercial sources – are prevalent in Cape Cod drinking water wells, according to previous studies by Silent Spring Institute.

A new study will further investigate septic systems as sources of perfluorinated chemicals into Cape Cod groundwater in order to inform wastewater management planning.

Silent Spring Institute preented this new study, along with updates on recent water quality and chemical exposure research, during its annual Cape Cod community presentation at Barnstable Town Hall yesterday.

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David Dow of the Sierra Club comments on contaminents in fire fighting foam.

David Dow of the Sierra Club comments on contaminents in fire fighting foam.

Silent Spring Institute was recently awarded a $40,000 grant from the Massachusetts Environmental Trust to study removal and discharge of perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) from septic systems and evaluate their role as sources of PFCs into Cape Cod groundwater and drinking water.

PFCs are used in household items such as nonstick cookware and stain- and water-resistant clothing and furnishings. Researchers will also compare PFC levels in Cape drinking water to those in drinking water nationwide.

“Understanding discharges of PFCs into Cape Cod groundwater from septic systems and other sources is a key step in shaping water management decisions that protect both ecosystem health and drinking water quality,” said Dr. Laurel Schaider, research scientist, who leads the Institute’s Cape water research.

Prior Silent Spring Institute studies found PFCs in public and private drinking water wells throughout Cape Cod, with the highest levels approaching health-based guidelines. The US EPA has identified PFCs as priority pollutants due to their health effects and persistence in the environment, and is considering regulating some PFCs in drinking water.

PFCs have been linked to a range of health effects, including mammary tumors and liver damage in animals and cancer and hormone disruption in people.  

Janet Ackerman stands in front of a map showing cancer rates in the region.

Janet Ackerman stands in front of a map showing breast cancer rates in the region.

Dr. Schaider discussed an ongoing study, funded in part by the Massachusetts Environmental Trust, on removal of PFCs, pharmaceuticals, and other household wastewater contaminants in homes that install eco-toilets as part of a demonstration project by the Town of Falmouth, as well as describe proposed future research plans.

Massachusetts Environmental Trust will provide roughly $429,000 in grants to 13 organizations this year, funded exclusively by motorists who purchase one of the Trust’s specialty license plates. The license plates, including their signature Whale Plate, are the only specialty plates that exclusively fund water-focused environmental programs. 

Yesterday’s presentation also featured a recent study that identified 17 groups of everyday chemicals linked to breast cancer. “Our study provides a road map for prioritizing chemicals in future health studies and offers women tips to avoid breast carcinogens in their daily lives,” said Janet Ackerman, study co-author and co-presenter at the Hyannis meeting.