The current local controversy involves possible contamination of the ground water around Mount Greylock Regional High School with perchlorate. The Eagle reports that:

Perchlorate is most commonly used as an ingredient in solid rocket fuel, and its presence at Greylock remains a mystery. It is believed to inhibit thyroid function in some people, though how much is dangerous is still up for debate.

Massachusetts has set an aggressive limit at 1 ppb, but industries that make and use perchlorate, along with the military, have argued that it is safe at much higher levels.

I am having trouble unpacking all the issues involved here.

There seems to be a connection between this and a construction project.

Opponents of the proposed Cold Spring Road water main extension leapt yesterday at word that perchlorate testing at Mount Grey-lock Regional High School was done from taps, alleging that the district cannot conclusively say the contaminant was in the ground water and not the plumbing system.

I think that the debate is between those who want MGRHS to be connected to the town water system and those who don’t want such a connection (because of the cost and hassle involved). Please correct me if this is wrong. If the perchlorate is in the ground water, then the connection is needed. If, on the other hand, the perchlorate comes from the school’s plumbing system itself, then a connection to the town water supply wouldn’t do any good.

The Transcript notes that

David P. Richardson, William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Chemistry, said news that water tested for perchlorate was taken from the tap could mean the chemical is not in the wells but in the school’s pipe system.

“Drawing a conclusion that the original well was contaminated is not a good conclusion,” said Richardson. “It’s certainly not a good enough conclusion to then claim we need to build a $4 million pipe to fix it.”

Richardson said a “careful, detailed and complete study of perchlorate contamination in the entire MGRHS water system-beginning with samples drawn directly from the underground aquifers and including all intermediate points all the way to the taps where students get their drinking water” is needed.

According to Richardson, Professor David Dethier of the Williams College Geosciences Department and he notified school officials they are willing and ready to plan, organize, and execute a study.

Mellor said she had not heard of any such offer.

Piechota said with “years and years of experience,” those with the Department of Environment Protection are experts on water, pipes, well testing and state regulations.

“So if anything’s amiss, or anything they would have questions about, we would have known it by now,” he said.

Riiiiiight. Call me crazy, but before putting my complete faith in those nice men from the state government, I wouldn’t mind having a couple of Williams professors take a look as well. In addition to Richardson and Dethier, Chemistry Professor John Thoman seems to be involved.

I still think that there is a backstory here. Why do Richardson, Dethier and Thoman care so much about whether or not the town extends to the water main to MGHRS? Is it just a question of other/better uses for the money?

This dispute has the potential to get quite contentious.

Greylock Superintendent Mark Piechota said that the district’s tests in September and October also were taken at the well and not from the tap.

“I’m disappointed in the Williams College professor for not giving us a call,” he said. “I would expect more from a scientist, to give a call to the people he’s referring to, to make sure the assumptions are correct.”

See here for more reading.

UPDATE: See here for more than you ever wanted to know on the topic.

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