Nitrogen regulations questioned at Board of Health meeting
The Board of Health has yet to approve a homeowner’s request to forgo an expensive wastewater treatment system following the adoption of new, nitrogen-related regulations in 2013. On Wednesday, board members unanimously shot down another request despite heavy protest from neighbors living on Cromeset Neck.
Members denied a request for a variance from Spenser Nevens who asked to be exempt from installing a “denitrification” wastewater treatment system at a home he purchased at 2 Quail Lane this summer.
Nevens, who lives in Bridgewater, said he planned to use the cottage as a summer residence with his family.
Speaking on behalf of Nevens, engineer George Collins, of Collins Civil Engineering Group, Inc., told board members a denitrification system, which is designed to remove nitrogen from wastewater, would not work because it requires six weeks of use before it starts being effective. With the house used infrequently the nitrogen levels would not be treated, said Collins.
He admonished the board saying the regulations harm homeowners.
“In my opinion, there’s an undue burden on everyone. You’re hurting so many people who are trying to live their lives,” said Collins.
The regulations were adopted after two years of study by the Board of the Health in a bid to lower nitrogen levels in Buzzards Bay.
Denitrification septic systems are required for any new construction or homes with failed septic systems that are 150 feet from wetlands or water bodies. The regulation updated an existing Board of Health regulation, which requires the same for new construction within 500 feet of bodies of water.
Denitrification septic systems are designed to remove nitrogen from wastewater. The regulation requires that the systems discharge 19 milligrams or less of nitrogen per liter of wastewater discharge on an annual average. To compare, a standard "Title 5" septic system allows approximately 28 to 35 milligrams of nitrogen per liter of wastewater discharge on an annual average.
Board of Heath Chair Amy Wiegandt, M.D., stood by the regulations.
“Our goal is to protect the environment,” said Wiegandt.
The problem with nitrogen, which is present in human waste, is that it makes things grow. When nitrogen pollutes waterways, invasive species such as algae grow out of control and use up the oxygen, which in turn causes fish, shellfish, and other marine life to die.
Collins proposed an alternative septic system that had been approved by the Department of Environmental Protection. Listing another reason for the variance request, Collins said the board did not say the proposed septic system would be denied more than 60 days after receiving the plans. By that time, Nevens had purchased the home. Factoring in the cost of the denitrification system was not part of Nevens’ budget, said Collins.
Approximately 15 neighbors from Cromeset Neck attended the meeting to support Nevens. Some questioned if nitrogen was actually leaking into the bay and requested data. Wiegandt said the Buzzards Bay Coalition, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving the bay, had that information.
Health Agent Robert Ethier said the data backed up the board’s claims.
“We’re charged with protecting the environment and these systems are the best way to do that right now,” said Ethier.