Old Lyme health director says sewers are solution to contaminated groundwater

Old Lyme — Weighing in on a debate about Hawk's Nest, the town's director of health said sewers are the answer to a "threat to public health of contaminated groundwater" in the neighborhood and nearby beaches.

Dr. Vijay Sikand told the Water Pollution Control Authority Tuesday that factors including unfavorable soil, excessively high development density and septic system crowding "have created a perfect storm for serious health hazards to residents exposed to the groundwater" in the Hawk's Nest vicinity and neighboring beach areas.  

Sikand presented the commission on Tuesday with the "Public Health Assessment of Pathogenic Contamination of Ground Water in the Vicinity of Hawk's Nest Beach Area."

Sandy Garvin of Hawk's Nest said in a phone interview Friday that she feels Hawk's Nest "has been painted with a broad brush" and that a full data analysis, similar to the caliber of the study of the three chartered beach associations in town, was never conducted for Hawk's Nest. 

In a phone interview Friday, Sikand said that the town's health and sanitation departments have compiled years of data into the report.

He said addressing groundwater pollution in the beach areas requires a comprehensive approach rather than dealing with neighborhoods on an individual basis.

"Essentially we now have a package showing the only way to solve this problem is as a whole," he said.

He outlined his concerns in the Jan. 12 letter to the WPCA: "The comprehensive data we have accumulated reveal that groundwater in these areas is polluted and an obvious hazard to health judged by current clean water standards. I am troubled by the possibility that infants, pregnant or breast-feeding women, the elderly and other vulnerable individuals with compromised immune systems might develop serious preventable diseases from exposure to water that is contaminated by pathogens or excess nitrates. Furthermore, I am concerned that there may be possible cancer risks from other potential toxins besides excess nitrates that may exist in polluted ground water that are currently the subject of research into water quality and its effects on human health. Even one individual developing serious disease from polluted water in this town is too many for me."

At Tuesday's meeting, the WPCA recommended that Woodard & Curran consultants complete a draft wastewater management plan and Environmental Impact Evaluation with updated information, which would then be submitted to the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

The updated information would incorporate data from the town's health and sanitarian departments and data from residents, said WPCA Chairman Kurt Zemba.

The additional work by the consultants would cost about $5,000.

First Selectwoman Bonnie Reemsnyder said she will discuss the proposal with the Board of Selectmen and Board of Finance.

The WPCA and health department have sent 486 letters to property owners in Sound View and Hawk's Nest to collect information by the end of the month on their wells or septic systems that would be included in the study, according to a notice posted on the town's website.

A consultant on behalf of Garvin Family Corp., which owns 50 properties, has collected its own data on the groundwater that shows it is within drinking-water standards, Garvin said.

Garvin, who said there are alternatives to sewers, also said she is thrilled the town is inviting people to participate. 

"I think if all the residents as a collective can put in their information, we might have a different discussion," she said.

On Tuesday, Zemba announced his resignation from the WPCA effective Feb. 1. Vice Chairman Richard Prendergast was elected as the new chairman. Donna Bednar and Doug Wilkinson will be vice-president and treasurer, respectively.

Zemba said his decision was a combination of factors. 

With three years left to his term, he said he did not think he would have enough time to complete all the work associated with chairing the WPCA, while having a busy travel schedule and managing a major and growing business. 

He also said he was tired of politics coming at the expense of public health and welfare.

Zemba said he has also resigned as town moderator.

His 25-year involvement in town politics included service as a selectman, Board of Education chairman and Republican Town Committee chair.


Twitter: @KimberlyDrelich

Town-of-Old-Lyme-Letter-to-WPCA (PDF)


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