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EPA says proposed gun range at Joint Base Cape Cod could contaminate drinking water

A truck drives past a welcome sign to Joint Base Cape Cod, Monday, Sept. 22, 2014, in Sandwich, Mass. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
A truck drives past a welcome sign to Joint Base Cape Cod, Monday, Sept. 22, 2014, in Sandwich, Mass. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

The regional U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said that a proposed machine gun training range at Joint Base Cape Cod could contaminate public drinking water supplies. The agency issued a draft determination Thursday, saying the range could create "a significant public health hazard."

Cape Cod’s drinking water comes from one giant underground reservoir — the Cape Cod Aquifer — which makes it especially vulnerable to contamination. EPA Regional Administrator David Cash said that the proposed 138-acre gun range would use more than a million bullets a year, releasing metals and chemical propellants into the environment, including copper, nitroglycerin, manganese and strontium.

"We're concerned that the contaminants from the machine gun range could contaminate the water that people drink on the Cape, and our role is to protect human health and the environment," said Cash.

"It's our job to make sure that when you turn on the tap and you're giving your kid a glass of water, you're not worried about what's in that water. And this would have threatened that."

The agency said in a statement that there are no adequate alternative drinking water sources for Cape Cod residents: "If the aquifer were contaminated, surrounding areas might need to construct and operate expensive advanced drinking water systems, overburdening communities that already face economic hardships."

"Water is everything to Cape Cod. If we don't have clean water to drink, we don't have anything," said Andrew Gottlieb, the executive director of the Association to Preserve Cape Cod, an environmental advocacy group.

"This type of activity would never be considered in the watershed of the Quabbin Reservoir, which serves two and a half million people in metropolitan Boston. And the people of Cape Cod shouldn't be asked to accept a risk to their water supply."

The Massachusetts Army National Guard proposed construction of the new machine gun range in 2020. The EPA started a review of the proposed project in August 2021 after Cape Cod residents raised concerns.

In a statement, the Massachusetts National Guard said it is reviewing the EPA's preliminary decision:

"The Massachusetts National Guard remains deeply committed to upholding environmental protections while providing our personnel with a range that serves our complex training needs and enhances soldier readiness."

EPA will accept public comment on its draft determination through June 26, and will hold a formal public hearing on May 24. The draft determination still faces final approval from EPA headquarters. If it’s upheld, no federal funds can be used to build the gun range.


Barbara Moran Correspondent, Climate and Environment
Barbara Moran is a correspondent on WBUR’s environmental team.



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