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Perchlorate Closes Pool

Sep 30, 2004 | Acton-The Beacon

The message on the answering machine at the Harvard Ridge Pool Club is pretty simple: The pool is closed because the water is contaminated. It will remain closed for a few weeks while a method is found to treat the water.

The contaminant, perchlorate, is an oxidizer that enhances the burning process, used primarily in solid rocket fuel and blasting agents.

According to the state Department of Environmental Protection, the chemical has been found in all three wells serving the Harvard Ridge condominiums, which includes the pool club. The first well was closed in early September, according to DEP spokesman Edmund Coletta. The second was closed Sept. 22.

"A confirmatory test came back at over 1,000 parts per billion," he said.

Residents of the condo were warned to avoid drinking the water. The pool was closed because people, particularly children, tend to swallow water while they are swimming, according to Boxborough Board of Health Secretary Mary Cobleigh.

"It's the same situation," Coletta said. "The water can be used, but it isn't potable. If those people need potable water, they should use bottled water."

Efforts to reach Harvard Ridge management were unsuccessful. Carol Fosdick, who runs the popular swimming program, said she's working with both the management company, from which the pool club leases its building, and the state to find a solution.

The water isn't an immediate hazard, and the pool work is being done as a precaution.

"We're getting a lot of calls from parents saying 'Oh, my God, my child was in the pool last week'," Fosdick said. "But it's not anything to worry about."

Right now, business is down to zero, the 175 children who take lesson are on hold and Fosdick is taking estimates from companies on ways to treat the water.

The state is still investigating where the perchlorate came from, but speculates it is a result of blasting done during construction in the area, Coletta said.

The numbers found in the Harvard Ridge wells are high. Warnings are tripped when there is perchlorate at one part per billion in the water.

Although there are no federal or state standards for perchlorate, the DEP advises pregnant women, infants and children up to the age of 12, and people with hypothyroidism, against consuming water that has tested more than 1 part per billion. The water is safe to drink up to 18 parts per billion for the general population.

The Harvard Ridge tests came back at 700 parts and higher, with some test numbers crested 1,000, Coletta said.

"This is a serious contamination," he said.

With the test results, Boxborough joins Tewksbury, Westford and about five other towns in Massachusetts that have tested positive for perchlorate, Coletta said.

The long-range health impacts of the chemical focus mainly on the thyroid gland, preventing it from taking in iodide, a chemical the body uses to produce thyroid hormones. These hormones are important for proper brain development in children and to maintain energy levels and metabolism in adults. Children who have low thyroid hormone levels, especially in formative years can suffer mental retardation, reduction in IQ, and have speech, movement, and hearing issues, according to the state.

The state began requiring cities and towns to test for the chemical salt after high concentrations were found at the Massachusetts military reservation on Cape Cod. This year, 700 public water systems have been tested, with about 1 percent found contaminated, he said.

Coletta would not speculate on what the contamination could mean for Boxborough water all of the town's residents are on private wells. The Harvard Ridge system, while a local well, is considered a public supply because it serves more than one dwelling. Routine tests don't pick up the presence of perchlorate, but he recommended people in the Harvard Ridge area have their water tested. The DEP Web site, has a list of labs that can test for perchlorate.

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