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The Massachusetts Department of Public Health has ordered a study of Cape Cod newborns to try to determine if any children have been harmed by water contamination caused by the Massachusetts Military Reservation.
''If we can determine whether or not there are impacts, it would lead us to look at other health impacts in a larger study,'' said Suzanne Condon, director of the Bureau of Environmental Health, who was quoted in the Boston Herald.
The study will use data from mandatory health screenings of all newborns in the state and check the results against thyroid readings from 750 babies born in Bourne between 1999 and 2001.
Perchlorate, a pollutant associated with rocket fuel that is suspected of causing thyroid disease, showed up in Bourne's water supply, forcing the community to connect to an alternate supply provided by the military.
The Bourne Water District shut down three of its six wells this spring after officials discovered trace amounts of perchlorate had leaked in from the military reservation.
The Environmental Protection Agency has reported that perchlorate can cause thyroid problems, but has not decided on how much is too much. A draft of a new report suggests 1 part per billion is a safe standard, while over the past decade the agency has suggested a safe range is 4 to 18 parts per billion.
''What is on the minds of a lot of people are repeated statements from the EPA that they don't know the impacts of perchlorate on health,'' said Bourne resident Bob Gray, 52. ''There is always that concern that something is lurking out there we're not testing for.''
During decades of detonations, testing, burning and burying of numerous amounts of rockets, grenades, munitions, and chemicals, most people didn't realize that directly underneath the reservation was the sole source of Cape Cod's drinking supply.
The EPA placed the reservation on its Superfund list in 1989 after it found extensive groundwater contamination, including significant amounts of chemical and fuel oil spills that had leaked from the Otis Air Base.
The agency ordered the National Guard in 1997 to stop any training exercises that used explosives, and later ordered the Guard to clean up the northern two-thirds of the reservation, where it operated.
''Our main goal now is finding out exactly where this [perchlorate] is coming from and take action,'' said Tina Dolen, an environmentalist and Falmouth resident who was hired by the National Guard to help in its investigation and cleanup.
The military paid for and built the $2.5 million, 3-mile water line dedicated Thursday. It begins pumping water today.
Bourne water officials say they are concerned that no one has found the source of the perchlorate leak and that the chemical can appear one day in monitoring wells and disappear the next.