Addressing the Public Health Effect of Well Water Contamination by Naturally Occurring Uranium

Glastonbury, Connecticut

Featured image for the project, Addressing the Public Health Effect of Well Water Contamination by Naturally Occurring Uranium

Description

Located in central Connecticut and stretching along nearly nine miles of the CT River, Glastonbury is one of the state’s largest and oldest municipalities. Because of its extensive riverfront property, water has been integral to the town’s history and development. Glastonbury prides itself in its thriving agriculture, land preservation, expansive recreational opportunities, and nationally recognized Riverfront Park, all of which are supported by the town’s river access.

Unfortunately, Glastonbury residents that rely on private wells have recently faced the challenge of naturally occurring uranium contamination in their drinking water. As of September 2019, thirty four percent of the tested private drinking water wells exceed the Environmental Protection Agency’s maximum contaminant level of 30 ppb, exceptional cases by several orders of magnitude. Glastonbury’s vulnerability to uranium contamination may be greatly influenced by the presence of Glastonbury Gneiss granite, which underlies a significant section of town. Glastonbury Gneiss has been associated with elevated levels of naturally occurring uranium.

Glastonbury’s dedication to its residents is clear, winning multiple awards for being one of the safest, most sustainable and environmentally responsible, and community-driven municipalities in the state of Connecticut.  Glastonbury is continuing this commitment to a high quality of life for residents by working to ensure all community members have access to clean drinking water.

Glastonbury has already begun efforts to identify the scope of contamination in town and the surrounding areas. Through town-wide testing of private wells, uranium in two separate neighborhoods has been identified at rates and elevations more considerable than other areas of town. Test results from nearly 750 well samples throughout town provide some understanding of the extent of the contamination. Residents have been provided information at a public forum when the first neighborhood identified high uranium in their well water, and multiple articles have since appeared in local press and through Town notification systems.

The Town is now looking to work with experts to better understand the effects of uranium contamination, the factors that contribute to water contaminants, and the potential impact from well water treatment backwash systems, and will use this research to develop a strategy to best address this challenge facing town residents. Town leadership has determined that the most pressing priority is to encourage residents to transition from well water to public utilities. This, however, is expected to come at a cost to the public and therefore the Town is seeking grant funding opportunities that would offset the financial investment required to extend public water. Addressing the cost implications will be particularly challenging as resident interest and support varies largely based on homeowners’ individual well results and/or their property’s proximity to the neighborhoods of interest. Throughout this process, the Town’s objective is to foster greater buy-in from all community members and to emphasize that remediation and associated expenses will benefit the public health of all residents.

The Project

The Glastonbury project team has identified four primary objectives for a Thriving Earth Exchange project. The group would like to

  • Gain a further understanding of the impacts of naturally occurring uranium contamination on human health;
  • Understand the factors (e.g. bedrock, well depth/location) that change or contribute to well water contaminants (e.g. uranium) in groundwater;
  • Understand how other U.S. communities have been affected by naturally occurring uranium contamination and how they addressed it, including use and impact of water treatment wastewater disposal systems;
  • Develop a public communication campaign on the dangers of uranium contamination to share with residents along with recommendations on how to proceed in the best interest of the community.

Project Outputs

Outputs include:

  • Two reports outlining the effects of naturally occurring uranium contamination and how other communities have persevered. One report should be prepared for public consumption and the second should be tailored towards policy-makers.
  • Public meeting with a scientific expert that invites community members to better understand the gravity of naturally occurring uranium groundwater contamination on their and the community’s health. The public meeting should include the summary of findings and recommendations.

 

Project Team

Community Leads

Richard J. Johnson is the Town Manager for Glastonbury and will serve as the main point of contact for the project. Mr. Johnson has served as the Glastonbury Town Manager since 1993. Prior to assuming his current position, he served as Assistant Town Manager for approximately 7 years and has held a variety of municipal management positions throughout his career. Over the past 3 decades, his leadership has helped Glastonbury maintain its standing as a highly desirable place to work, live, play, and do business. Many of the projects he has helped manage have been recognized on a national and local level and have served to benefit the community and all facets of Town operations. He continues to identify ways to further improve the high quality of life in Glastonbury while maintaining the delicate balance of progress and preservation.

The second point of contact for this project is Wendy S. Mis, Glastonbury Director of Health. Wendy has worked in the local public health sector for over 33 years in both environmental and community health and has served as the Glastonbury Director of Health since 2014. Wendy has a background in health education and community partnerships and has collaborated with numerous agencies and organizations to provide public health programs at the local level. Since joining the Glastonbury management team, Wendy has played a lead role in several successful projects and assisted the town in earning formal recognition for its public health initiatives.

Community Science Fellow

Caitlyn Hall is a PhD student at Arizona State University. Her current research focus is promoting sustainability and natural hazard resilience using microbes to reduce damage from earthquake-induced liquefaction. She works with industry, community, and government leaders to develop best-fit technical and policy solutions to best-address a community’s challenges and values. Her other research focuses include controlled environment agriculture, sustainable use of resources for urban farming, and using biochemical methods to remediate oil-contaminated soil. For fun, Caitlyn spends her time rock climbing and trail running.

Scientist Wanted

Scientific Partner

The team at Glastonbury seeks a scientific partner that is a subject matter expert on the human health effects of uranium. Ideally, this scientist also has experience with developing solutions for uranium contamination that has directly impacted a community. The scientific partner will work with the team for the duration of the project (8 – 10 months) and must be willing to participate in local public meetings. Travel and lodging will be covered by the Town of Glastonbury to attend this public meeting.

Thriving Earth Exchange asks all scientific partners to work with the community to help define a project with concrete local impact that they can contribute to as pro-bono volunteers and collaborators. This work can also position the scientists and communities to seek additional funding, together, for the next stage.

 

Desired Skills and Expertise

  • Background in organic chemistry, environmental engineering, hydrogeology, soil science
  • Field experience with naturally occurring uranium pollution in groundwater
  • Experience working with multiple stakeholders on uranium contamination, particularly a town or county, is preferred
  • Ability to translate difficult science terminology for a lay audience
  • Adept problem-solver and able to effectively convey results in written and verbal form and in a manner that conveys the gravity of the situation
  • Willingness to connect science to local concerns
  • Relaxed, easy-going personality with a good sense of humor
  • Strong listening and communication skills
  • Competent and open to new ideas
  • Able to visit the community in-person (travel will be supported by the community)

Interested in volunteering? Apply now!

 

Timeline

Development of the two public-facing messages on the current state of the science on naturally occurring uranium contamination should begin as soon as possible.  Connection with towns that have, or are currently working towards solutions to prevent harm to residents as a result of uranium contamination should begin soon after a scientist has been selected.

November – December 2019:

  • Identify a scientist for the team, complete a detailed project timeline and project scope.
  • The scientist should become familiar with the challenges and data specific to Glastonbury.
  • Report research should begin.

January – March 2020:

  • Complete research on how uranium has impacted other communities in the United States.
  • Complete reports for public and policymakers to supplement the current information available.

April – June 2020:

  • Public meeting – invite community members, policymakers