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'Forever chemicals' could delay plan for towns to hook up to Joint Base Cape Cod wastewater plant

Kevin Rutherford
CC BY-SA 4.0

The 'forever chemicals' PFAS could delay a plan to help Upper Cape towns meet their wastewater goals.

Last week, there was an update on a plan to hook up town sewer to an under-used wastewater treatment plant on Joint Base Cape Cod during the September 14 Sandwich Select Board meeting.

PFAS contamination from the Joint Base has been detected at the plant, something federal regulators want addressed before any towns connect to it.

Plant ownership is being transferred from the Air Force to a private company called Converge.

Converge Founder and Managing Partner Matt Kennedy explained the holdup during the meeting.

“It does change the immediacy of, ‘Hey there’s this spare underutilized capacity. How fast potentially can we just connect into the system and essentially turn on the lights?’ That’s the piece that we’re wrestling through.”

The Air Force Civil Engineer Center (AFCEC) has determined the two sources of PFAS contamination in the wastewater treatment plant are from the Joint Base’s former fire department building and the current fire department.

In an email included in the Sandwich Select Board meeting materials, EPA Federal Facilities Supervisor Anni Loughlin said it could be years before the Air Force finishes its investigation and clean up of the PFAS.

Loughlin's email also references comments made by an EPA Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA or Superfund) attorney.

“Transferring the wastewater facility to a private entity and allowing municipal connection has the potential to subject municipalities to CERCLA liability, if the actions of the redevelopment cause further releases of CERCLA Contamination.”

A potential delay in the plan to connect to the Joint Base’s wastewater treatment plant comes as towns across the Cape are installing sewers to cut nitrogen pollution in local waters.

Sandwich leaders are still taking next steps on the plan to hook up to the plant on the Joint Base.

Last year, Sandwich passed legislation to work with neighboring towns and the Base to develop regional wastewater solutions.

Next week, town officials will attend a state hearing on the bill.

Town Manager George “Bud” Dunham said connecting to the Base facility, under terms of the bill, would lower costs.

“Once we cross the Base boundary, it would allow those connections and costs to be eligible under the state revolving fund that gets us lower interest loans to do that.”

State approval is needed for Sandwich to be eligible for those money-saving loans.

Brian Engles is an author, a Cape Cod local, and a producer for Morning Edition.