For Immediate Release - August 31, 2012

AG, DEP Resolve Case Against Town of Falmouth for Inadequate Response to E. Coli Bacteria Emergency in 2010

Town Implements Series of Measures to Improve Public Water System

BOSTON — The Town of Falmouth will pay $60,000 in civil penalties, and has taken steps to improve their water systems, settling claims that it inadequately responded to a public water emergency in June 2010 when elevated levels of coliform bacteria contaminated the town’s drinking water and E. coli fecal bacteria was detected in some water samples, Attorney General Martha Coakley announced today. 

     “Swift and effective responses to water emergencies are critical to protecting public health,” AG Coakley said. “We are pleased that the Town of Falmouth has taken many steps to improve its public water system since these violations were discovered.”

     “Prompt notification to the public and to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) are necessary to prevent possible future health effects, and to enable the town to benefit from our agency’s technical assistance and help to rapidly end the water emergency,” MassDEP Commissioner Kenneth Kimmell said. “In addition to the health risks, the public and local businesses were subjected to significant inconveniences and economic losses during the height of Cape Cod’s summer season.”

     According to the complaint, filed along with the consent judgment on Thursday, the town and its water department failed to notify the MassDEP within 24 hours after laboratory results detected elevated levels of total coliform bacteria and the presence of E. coli in routine drinking water system samples. For the next five days, the town continued to violate drinking water regulations by failing to implement its Emergency Response Plan, notify the public, or notify and consult with MassDEP even though samples continued to show a water emergency. 

     Once MassDEP became aware of the elevated bacteria levels, five days after the town’s detection of E. coli, they issued a “boil order,” requiring that the town inform residents to discard ice and any food or beverages prepared with public water during the past week and boil all town water used for drinking, cooking, ice-making, dishwashing and teeth-brushing. Among other public notice measures, the town informed residents of the boil order by implementing a “reverse 911” call system. The boil order remained in effect for a week until bacteria levels dropped.

     Following the boil order, the town implemented a series of measures to improve its public water system and emergency response plan and provided additional training for the town’s drinking water operators.

     As part of the settlement, the town will complete a supplemental environmental project by contracting with a consultant to develop a water systems operation plan in order to improve its ability to respond to future problems, going above and beyond mere compliance with regulatory requirements. The plan will evaluate disinfectant levels and effectiveness at various points throughout the drinking water system in order to help the town better understand and more effectively address potential contamination issues before problems arise. The town will also contract for completion of a watershed management and vegetation control study for Long Pond, one of the town’s primary drinking water sources. 

     The case was handled by Assistant Attorney General Matthew Ireland of AG Coakley’s Environmental Protection Division, with assistance from MassDEP technical staff Charles Shurtleff, Karen Dube, Richard Rondeau, Therese Dayian, Jonathan Hobill, and Dan DiSalvio, and MassDEP attorney Shaun Walsh, all of MassDEP’s Southeast Regional Office in Lakeville.