Posted on Wed, Oct 20, 2010
Tests prove negative for suspected contaminant from Bridge Road but a small problem has surfaced. Treatment at well head is possible.
October 20, 2010- The building that now houses the new grocery store, The Country Market, in Tylerville off of Bridge St. used to be the home for Sibley Manufacturing. The company made printed circuit boards. Part of their process included cleaning the boards with powerful solvents and one of those chemicals ended up in the groundwater around Tylerville. Sibley went out of business but the chemicals have persisted in the ground water and have shown up in neighbors' wells for the past 30 years. The chemical is tetrachloroethylene or TCE and it can be a carcinogen. The neighbors have had filters on their faucets and had drinking water provided to them for the past 30 years by the State. The reason why we are talking about it now is due to an article in the September 19 issue of The Hartford Courant that talked about the desires of the neighbors to have a public water system extended to Tylerville from Chester and complaining about foot dragging by the DEP. If you wish to read the article, it is scanned and found on three pages under the photo gallery in the space for the Environmental Committee on this website. The article included a map of the area showing the areas that had contaminated water. It showed the area from Bridge Road to the southern edge of Camp Bethel. That is no surprise-- we've known that for years. But it also showed areas of contamination on the properties immediately north of Camp Bethel, something we had never seen before.
Prompted by that worrisome news, the State-registered operators of the Camp Bethel Association's water system, Lee Watkins and Steve Gephard, reviewed our water testing data and realized that it had been a few years since we had tested for TCE. The water from both wells is tested twice a year for bacteria, nitrites, salt, and other common contaminants per order of the Department of Public Health, but the tests for organic solverts like TCE, benzene, gasoline, etc. is more expensive and has not been done annually. After reading the article, the wells were immediately sampled and sent off to the analytical labs. The results are: TCE was NOT found in either well. This is great news. However, another chemical, MTBE, was found in low concentrations in the west well.
MTBE is methyl tertiary-butyl ether and was a common additive in gasoline after lead was outlawed as an additive. It is very water soluble so when gasoline leaked into the ground and reached the water table, MBTE would diffuse out of the gasoline (which is not water soluble) and enter the water in the ground. It would travel with the water and end up in people's wells. It is now outlawed, like lead. Research has yet to link MTBE with cancer or any other problems. It is most dangerous when breathed as a vapor. The Connecticut Department of Health has set a health advisory at 70 parts per billion. The concentration in the west well was 1.9 parts per billion, barely over the detection limit.
Steve met with the groundwater experts within the Dept of Environmental Protection to discuss this matter. They stated that at 1.9 ppb, it is really impossible for drinkers to detect the contaminant (no impact on taste) and based on scientific data, there is no clear risk health to those who drink it. However, a simple charcoal filter in a water line can strip the MTBE from the water. Accordingly, Lee and Steve, in consultation with President Al Durrel, are researching products and are planning on installing such a filter at the west well head prior to turning on the water to the campground next spring. The west well will be tested again next year, both before and after the filter. Appropriate requests will be forwarded to the Finance Committee for budgetting purposes, although the installation and operation of the filter will not be an expensive item.
According to the DEP, it is likely that the source of the MTBE contamination is NOT from outside sources but is likely to have originated within Camp Bethel. The concentration is so low that officials suspect that it may have come from something as simple and small as a spill from fueling a lawnmower or maybe a leaky gas tank of a car. If the source would have been from an industrial site-- such as a leaky inground storage tank of one of the gas stations at the crossroads-- the concentration in our water would have been much greater. This is an important reminder to Camp Bethelites. Our soil (which is nothing more than sand and gravel) is extremely permeable and the percolation rate is astoundingly fast. Any contaminant that is poured on the ground can end up in the ground water very quickly. No chemical-- whether gasoline, paint, thinner, pesticide, pharmaceutical, or other potentially dangerous material-- should ever be discarded or spilled on the ground. These chemicals should not be 'disposed of' down your toilet either. Chemicals that are flushed will not be neutralized in a septic tank and still could leach out into the ground. The Environmental Committee will issue advisories for all cottages owners and members for next season.
MTBE is found in 20% of all residential wells in Connecticut!
The experts with the DEP explained that in Tylerville the groundwater does not move north to south with the river, even though our wells are down below the river bed level. Due to the hills to the west, the groundwater moves from west to east (from Rt. 154 toward the river) with a slight southern bend due to t he flow of the river. Therefore, the DEP does not expect Camp Bethel to ever detect the TCE from Sibley in its wells. Moreover, the map in the article of The Hartford Courant was erroneous. TCE has NOT been detected north of Camp Bethel. Most of the TCE pollution is not on Camp Bethel Road but along Bridge St. (including the new River House) and the seasonal cottages along the river south of the new Eagle Landing State Park (the old cruise line property).
There are plans to test the east well for these industrial contaminants every other year, despite the fact that none have been detected in that well to date. There are no plans to install a filter on the east well although that can happen quickly if contaminants are ever detected in the water. Incidentally, water from both wells continue to test perfect in respect to bacteria and other common contaminants during the routine semi-annual testing for the Department of Public Health.
The DEP continues to monitor the situation but the neighbors are frustrated that no "action' has been taken and that Sibley has not been prosecuted and made to pay for clean up. However, in talking to the DEP, it is clear that there is no hard evidence that Sibley, in fact, was the culprit as everyone assumes. There were at least two other parties in Tylerville-- including the State DOT-- that were known to spill contaminants in the area and without further data, the DEP does not have a case that will hold up in court. The DEP had ordered Sibley to pay experts to conduct an extensive groundwater study that might help them understand the source of the contamination and that study was due to the DEP in March of 2010. It has not been delivered and perhaps not even undertaken. As of today, October 20, the DEP is suing Sibley for this study. But even if the courts back the DEP and order Sibley to undertake the study, this issue of groundwater pollution will not be resolved anytime soon.
Questions can be emailed to Steve Gephard or entered onto the chat page for the Environmental Committee in this website.
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