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Region 1: EPA New England

Protecting Drinking Water - Cape Cod, Mass.

The cleanup of the Cape Cod Aquifer is one of many strategies EPA is pursuing to make New England's drinking water supplies safer. While we're fortunate that 94 percent of the region's public water supply systems currently meet drinking water quality standards, drinking water safety cannot be taken for granted. The agency's tools include tough enforcement, technical and financial assistance to public water suppliers, and boosting public awareness.

In a major new effort, EPA will work with many partners to help small systems cope with new drinking water regulations for contaminants. EPA continues to support the requirement that all public water suppliers provide annual "Consumer Confidence Reports" to their customers, which explain where their water comes from and whether it complies with drinking water rules. EPA is also working with states to have all public water suppliers assess potential contamination threats to their drinking water supplies and take steps to protect them.
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Professor Joel Feigenbaum moved to Cape Cod in 1980, looking forward to retiring to the salty fresh air and quiet of the seashore.

No one told him that his solitude would be drowned out by periodic shelling and ordnance booms from a nearby military base. Even worse, no one told him that the Cape's sole source of drinking water was in grave peril from decades of military training activities at the 14,000-acre Massachusetts Military Reservation.

Feigenbaum soon learned the various military activities had contaminated billions of gallons of the Cape's groundwater. "My first walk on the base in the 1980s was like a walk on the moon—barren, bleak terrain—but with piles of disgusting garbage," Feigenbaum recalled. Given the region's exploding growth, and that current water supplies were slated to run short by 2010, it wasn't a situation that could be ignored.

In 1997, EPA—in an unprecedented move—ordered the military to halt training activities on the base and investigate whether training was harming the environment. The study demonstrated that training was, in fact, damaging the Cape's aquifer, and EPA immediately ordered the military to undertake a major cleanup of contaminated soil, groundwater and unexploded ordnance. The orders were issued under emergency provisions of the Safe Drinking Water Act.

As a result of EPA's actions on the Cape, the Department of Defense is now looking seriously at the environmental impacts that firing ranges—encompassing 20 to 50 million acres nationwide—are having on groundwater supplies all across the country. The military is reconsidering its use of open burn and open detonation training activities.

For Feigenbaum, the end of the shell blasts and launching of the cleanup are an encouraging first step. "I'm very excited we've gotten this far," he said. "Now we want to make sure that the cleanup is completed."

Contacts / Acknowledgments

Additional Links
Drinking Water
MMR Enforcement Order
Massachusetts Military Reservation Click icon for EPA disclaimer.
NE Sole Source Aquifers
Otis Air National Guard/Camp Edwards NPL Fact Sheet
Water Enforcement

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