Category Archives: Water

First Lego League Presentation

First Lego League 6th grade girls’ team presentation: Microfiber pollution of oceans. All from different schools. There are three parts to this team’s competition project: (1) the project they’re presenting today, for which they had to research a problem within the theme of interaction between humans and animals (“animal allies”). They chose how microfibers (tiny plastic shards from fleece clothing) can end up in the ocean, be eaten by organisms, and then move up the food chain. They did a presentation in the form of a skit; (2) a robot game, on the same theme (animal allies), in which robots have to complete missions; (3) sharing their project with their communities.

Microfibers are teeny bits of fabric, from fleece clothing, that shed in the washing machine, and often end up eventually in the oceans. Fish are eating them either directly or indirectly, and 700 marine species are in danger. The fish on our plate may contain microfibers. Microfibers have been found in beer in Germany.

Before water from washing machines goes to oceans, it typically goes through treatment plants. Yet, there are so many of these fibers in the water that even if they filter out 15% of them, the volume entering oceans is huge. Upgrading treatment plants is challenging and expensive. Scientists are working on making washing machines more efficient at trapping these fibers. The team reached out to 200 adults and a few kids and only a few knew about microfibers and their effect on the planet.

How to prevent? Wash clothes only when necessary, in full loads, in cold water, and at lower speeds/gentle cycles. Using liquid soap and fabric softeners helps. The fabric industry is researching fabrics to figure out how to manufacture clothes that don’t have this problem; Patagonia is the premier example. There is a product in prototype (available 2017) that would go into the wash and capture microfibers. Polyester (including fleece), rayon, acrylic, and all synthetic fabrics are the culprits; natural fibers (cotton, wool, linen) do not present this problem. The older the item, the more fibers it sheds. President Obama signed a law last year (which will take effect next year) that will ban the use of microplastic beads in personal care items, but that doesn’t include microfibers for fabric.

The team became interested in this problem — discovered by ecologist Dr. Mark Browne and published in 2011 —through an article they read in school. The team, which meets 3–4 times each week, was featured in an article in the Acton Beacon, and has shared its findings with the local community and the New England Aquarium. They have completed one regional tournament, and will now go on to statewide competition. The group will continue to work to raise awareness of this problem; they may do a presentation for the local schools and perhaps for the 2017 AB PIP-STEM fest.

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Background: Water in Acton

Water flows into Acton from rain and groundwater, and from a few small streams that flow into Acton. Continue reading

Acton Water District
The Acton Water District is a state-chartered governmental entity, separate from the Town of Acton, responsible for providing adequate amounts of safe clean water to the District’s business, residential, and municipal customers. They have a lot of useful educational and technical material on their website about Acton’s water supply.

2016 Green Acton comments on WR Grace cleanup plan

Below is the text of Green Acton’s 2016 letter to the EPA about the Grace cleanup site. A PDF is available here Continue reading

Acton Water District letter about the EPA plan for Nuclear Metals superfund site

Available as a downloadable PDF file from the AWD here

Jane Ceraso December 2014 public comments on the Nuclear Metals Superfund Site

EPA Public Hearing on Proposed Remedial Action Plan for the Concord, Massachusetts Nuclear Metals, Inc. Superfund site

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Background: the Nuclear Metals Superfund Site

From the EPA Superfund information site for Nuclear Metals

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Nuclear Metals Superfund Site

In Concord, Massachusetts, near the border with Acton, there is a federal Superfund site — the Nuclear Metals, Inc. site (formerly Starmet) — that may threaten Acton’s water supply through potential contamination of Acton’s Assabet wells (the same wells that were contaminated by the W.R. Grace Superfund site).

Click on the links to the right for more information.

Additional Sources of Information

For more information on the WR Grace Superfund Site in Acton, Massachusetts: Continue reading

Public Repository of WR Grace Documents – Additional Information

The Acton Memorial Library maintains a public repository of documents about the WR Grace Site. These documents, dating back to the 1970’s, can be found in a loft area (accessed by a small spiral staircase), above the Civil War exhibit on the second floor of the library. (Please ask at the reference desk, if you need assistance.) WR Grace documents are also available for public review at the Acton Health Department in Acton Town Hall.

Many of the documents before 1997 concern the identification and cleanup of contaminated sludge and soil from onsite lagoons and other disposal areas. More recent documents focus on the groundwater contamination that extends beyond the borders of the WR Grace property, reaching both the Assabet River to the south and three public water supply wells to the northeast. (The Acton Water District treats the public water supply to meet all applicable water quality standards.)

Overview Documents:
For an overview of past and current issues at the WR Grace Site, see the following documents:

1. Draft Phase II, Remedial Investigation Report, for the WR Grace Site, Acton, MA, Aug. 30, 2002, by GeoTrans
(In Volume I: See the text, especially Sections 1 through 3; In Volume II: See Appendix B)

If you are interested in further information about the WR Grace site, the August 30, 2002 Remedial Investigation Report (RI) is a good place to start. The text in Volume I provides an overview of the site. (Section 3 of the text provides details on the contaminants, including a more extensive list than the usually cited benzene, VDC, vinyl chloride, arsenic and manganese.) The figures include cross sections of the benzene, VDC, and vinyl chloride plumes, and the distribution of inorganic compounds (arsenic, manganese, iron, and aluminum) in groundwater onsite. Large site maps (24” X 36”) are also included in this and many other WR Grace reports. Appendix B (in Volume II of the RI), provides two lists of the contaminants that exceed water quality standards—one list organized by chemical name, and the second by sampling location.

2. Annual Groundwater Monitoring Reports (2003 through Current Year)
These reports, usually available in the spring of each year, include plume maps showing the location and concentrations of VDC, vinyl chloride, and benzene in groundwater at the WR Grace Site from the prior year’s annual sampling. They also discuss any changes in contamination levels compared to previous years, and any issues of current concern. Contaminants currently sampled in groundwater include volatile organic compounds, inorganic compounds, 1,4-dioxane, and geochemical parameters.

3. Five Year Review Reports Issued by EPA, (September 1999, September 2004 and September 2009)
Five Year Review Reports include a summary of the history of the site and actions taken to address contamination, as well as site photos, maps, tables, and an assessment of the protectiveness of the cleanup of soils at the site. (Five Year Reviews by EPA are required as part of the Federal “Superfund” process because “hazardous substances, pollutants, or contaminants remain at the Site above levels that allow for unlimited use and unrestricted exposure.”)