No treatment plant expansion

To the Editor:

Let’s start with a few facts from Colorado State University.

The earth’s atmosphere consists of 78 percent nitrogen and is the ultimate source of all nitrogen.

The nitrogen oxides and ammonium that are washed to earth are formed during electrical storms, by internal combustion engines, and through oxidation by sunlight.

Cattle manure contains 10 to 40 pounds of nitrogen per ton.

Each ton of applied manure is equal to five to 20 pounds of commercial fertilizer.

Here are facts I found from other sources:

One horse produces about 100 pounds of nitrate per year.

One goose produces about one pound of nitrate per year.

One human contributes about three pounds of nitrate per year.

This means a family of four adds about 12 pounds of nitrate into the ground via the septic leach pit or field per year. This is about the same amount of nitrate in a single 50-pound bag of 20-10-20 commercial fertilizer.

Growing corn requires 300 pounds nitrate per acre with 50 percent considered lost to runoff. That is 150 pounds of nitrate lost to runoff per acre. That is the equivalent of 100 people defecating every day on the surface of one acre of land for a year.

Rain on the Island was tested and contains 1.2 PPM nitrate. This equals about 17,588 pounds of nitrate per inch of rain Island-wide or 808,000 pounds Island-wide per year.

The total rainfall on the Island is about 80 billion gallons or 80,000 millions of gallons.

One mature oak tree drinks about 50 gallons of water per day.

The point being that human contribution to nitrate levels in the ground is not even enough to fertilize the trees, let alone enough to contribute to the nitrate pollution of our ponds. This reality is supported by the fact that the EPA, HUD, and FHA use 50 feet and 75 feet as safe separation distances between drinking water wells and septic leach beds or pits. A study of several different on-site septic systems by the University of Wisconsin states that water is restored to drinking water standards within 20.7 feet of the septic leach field or pit. The fact is that the nitrates from your septic system are not leaving your property and are in no way contributing to the nitrate problem in our ponds.

The danger in unnecessarily expanding wastewater treatment plants is that the discharge from the plants contain many pollutants that are not removed, or even tested for, and concentrating these pollutants in one place creates a localized higher concentration of the pollutants than individual septic systems. These pollutants have polluted ponds and water sheds. These pollutants include, but are not limited to, xenoestrogens and pharmaceutical waste from medicines passed through in human waste or disposed of down the drain. These pollutants cause breast cancer and other medical problems in humans and serious abnormalities in fish, like male fish growing egg sacs. Edgartown is the most at-risk of this problem because of the proximity of the plant’s discharge to the Edgartown Great Pond and Edgartown’s extreme and needless over expansion of the areas serviced by the sewer system.

There should not be any expansion of areas serviced by wastewater treatment systems unless a specific need can be proven to the public. This is as simple as putting in test wells in suspect areas and testing the water from the wells. I have talked to a few well drillers and seen many water test results. The tests show that our water is very clean with nitrate counts from zero ppm to less than three ppm, and most of these are downstream from the on-site septic systems on the individual property.

I have a lot of sources for this information, and I would be happy to share with anyone who is interested. This is a very serious issue for both economic and environmental reasons. We do not need to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to create a pollution problem where there is none. I have loads of studies, a couple of water professionals, and a PHD in geotechnical sciences who support this information.

It is more than obvious that the nitrate problem in our ponds is from land development, 80 billion gallons of rain per year and the attendant surface runoff. How many tons of commercial fertilizer are used per year Island-wide?

There are many ways to clean our ponds with natural means that are very inexpensive. Controlling surface runoff, rebuilding wetland areas, (check out constructed wetlands in Wikipedia), installing wind powered aeration systems,(see American Eagle Windmills) plus growing and harvesting various aquatic plants around the ponds are just a few things that will remove many hundreds of pounds of nitrates and provide oxygen to clean our ponds by natural processes.

If every property that abutted a pond plugged in an electric pond aerator or installed a wind-powered pond aerator, our ponds would clean themselves in short order. If you view the ponds as large fish tanks, it is easy to understand that controlling the water quality is doable and not doing so is inexcusable. There are fish farms, in the big world across the water, that are larger than Sengekontacket, have no tidal water exchange, and their water quality is controlled well enough to farm fish. Go figure.

Another sad fact is that many people have been unnecessarily forced to replace septic systems that only needed to have the leach pit cleaned. My system plugged up when it was 16 years old. I found the only problem was that the holes in the leach pit were clogged with about 3 inches of septic grease. I got out my pressure washer and washed down the side walls with a fan nozzle, which exposed the clogged holes; I then proceeded to blast out the holes with a zero-degree straight nozzle until clean yellow sand ran down the side of the pit, about four seconds per hole. My system worked fine for another 16 or 17 years. I repeated the same process about six years ago, and everything is fine today. I have done this for a few friends, and it is always successful.

The idea that we are on a path to spend hundreds of millions of taxpayer and homeowner dollars to accomplish nothing except the creation of a potentially serious pollution problem is obviously absurd. The public must demand proof of need before allowing expanded wastewater collection areas. The secret to pollution is dilution. If you want information or to help, I can be contacted at

Donald Muckerheide

Oak Bluffs