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November 13 2006


Government Can't Protect Water Supply

I would like to lay to rest the fantasy that no matter what we do to our land, "the government" will protect our water. Such an erroneous viewpoint was expressed once again in a letter to The Courant ("Mailing on Project Was Misleading," Oct. 26).

According to the Ground Water Report to Congress by the Ground Water Protection Council (available online), incidents of ground water contamination have occurred in every municipality in Connecticut due to sources such as industrial activities, underground storage tanks, landfills, salt storage facilities and road salt application, applications of pesticides and fertilizers, and countless accidental spills of chemicals at industrial, commercial and residential properties. There are more than 2,700 contaminated sites on the Connecticut database. On average, 75-100 contaminated drinking water supply wells are identified every year in Connecticut.

Costs incurred by property owners and businesses at hundreds of sites are not reported, but expenditures of state and federal funds to remediate Connecticut's contaminated sites are in the range of tens of millions of dollars per year. Evidently the "at least seven federal, state, and local agencies" which the writer of the letter and some other Simsbury residents expect to protect the purity of our water supplies are not doing so in 75 to 100 cases per year. And no wonder. People think that, no matter what they do on their property, no matter how much leftover paint or motor oil they dump, no matter how many chemicals they accidentally spill, no matter how thickly and frequently they plaster their lawns and gardens with pesticides and fertilizers, "the government" at one level or anotherwill reach out a magic hand and prevent all these poisons from trickling down into a shallow aquifer or running off into surface water. Wake up!

As a chemical physicist who studies processes of environmental degradation, I can tell you there is no way "the government" can prevent a housing development from shedding toxic substances. And if that development is separated from an underlying aquifer by less than 30 feet of sand, as is mostly the case with the Ethel Walker property, you can expect to find those toxic substances in the water sooner or later.

The only way to keep poisons out of the water is to make sure that as much as possible of the land above the aquifer remains undeveloped, as recommended by the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection and the Connecticut Department of Public Health. But there is no federal, state or municipal agency that will do that job for us.

Dr. Mark P. Silverman, Simsbury

The writer is a professor of physics at Trinity College

Copyright 2006, Hartford Courant