Scary sight, right? Extras from 'The Sopranos'? But considering what we might have been drinking 50 years ago, not too bad.
I recalled the fact that while we were working summers there, the groundwater we drank was likely contaminated with sewage effluent from the Massachusetts Military Reservation, a 22,000 acre site used by both the USAF and US Army. Although it has existed as a site for military operations since 1911, it became the MMR in 1935.
The area is perhaps infamous for the amount of groundwater pollution that has occured because of the MMR's operations through the years. All kinds of stuff has found its way into the western Cape's potable groundwater: lead, thallium, perchlorate, TCE, benzene, toluene, PCE, carbon tetrachloride, vinyl chloride, etc. Groundwater supplies much of the potable water on the Cape. And, as luck would have it, the MMR overlies a sole source aquifer.
Here is a portion of a 2012 plume map showing where our camp was located: just east of Coonamessett Pond near the little arm of the pond, which we (mistakenly?) called Round Pond. The stippled areas show contaminant plumes and the triangles are water-supply wells.
You can download the entire map here:
Read more about EPA and other (USAF and US Army) efforts to quantify and remediate contamination; there are now a number of remediation operations ongoing at the site. The USAF is managing the southern part of the contaminated area, where I worked summers through 1967. The clean-up is being performed under the auspices of Superfund. The contamination was not realized until the early 1980s.
It is likely that the sewage effluent plume was beneath us in the 1960s. Here is a 2000 plume map.
I did not realize that all this had been going on until the late 1990s or early 2000s. I had heard of the MMR clean-up but since contaminant hydrogeology was not my forte I did not pay much attention. Then I was appointed to my second NRC NAWQA committee and we visited the site on a field trip. There I became aware of the amount of contamination and its spatial orientation.
One of the USGS hydrologists told me it was likely that the sewage effluent plume had reached the wells from which we drank in the 1960s (see map from 2000). I recall seeing a map from a journal publication showing a plume beneath the pond.
The MMR has produced a lot of useful information about how to recognize and deal with contaminated groundwater. It's one of those sites - like the Rocky Mountain Arsenal and the Borden site in Ontario, among others - where many scientists and engineers 'cut their teeth' vis-a-vis site characterization, remediation, plume movement, and the fate and transport of pollutants.
Despite all the above, we seemed to have turned out all right. But what about our compatriots - there were about 30 more guys there. Wonder how they are faring?
Wait till next time.
"Nature is a part of our humanity, and without some awareness and experience of that divine mystery man ceases to be man." - Henry Beston