US Army Corps of Engineers
New England District

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District, partners, teach children the importance of safe drinking water during Connecticut STEM event

USACE, New England District
Published Oct. 3, 2018
Steve Dunbar (second from left) and New England District partners talk water quality with Strong Middle School students during a STEM presentation.

Steve Dunbar (second from left) and New England District partners talk water quality with Strong Middle School students during a STEM presentation.

Most children take safe drinking water for granted, but not the seventh graders at the Strong Middle School in Durham, Connecticut.  Their school is only steps away from the Superfund Site that has contaminated their drinking water.  In the near future, thanks in part to the New England District, a new, clean water solution will be in place and their drinking water will be safe.

Steve Dunbar, Project Manager of the Durham Meadows Superfund Site, and Technical Lead Dave Heislein, joined their contractor and partners in hosting two educational sessions Sept. 4 at Monitoring Well 3 to teach the children about groundwater contamination and how the New England District plans to provide them with clean water.  Each session – one in the morning and one in the afternoon – took approximately a half hour each. 

The Durham Meadows Superfund Site centers around the Durham Manufacturing Company, which is still in operation, and the remnants of the Merriam Manufacturing Company, which was destroyed by a fire in 1998.  To make metal cabinets, boxes and other items, the companies used chemicals such as Trichloroethene, 1-trichlorothane and methylene chloride.  Groundwater contamination occurred because of past disposal of wastewater in lagoons or sludge drying beds as well as spills at both sites and poor drum storage at Merriam Manufacturing.   As part of EPA’s cleanup process, the New England District will be constructing a water distribution system for the lead agency, to include bedrock monitoring wells.

During the STEM event, the team introduced themselves. Representatives came from EPA Region I, the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, District contractor Koman Government Solutions and Koman’s geophysics subcontractor, Hager-Richter.  Dunbar said the team talked about the importance of clean water.  “We explained why we we’re installing the testing wells,” he said.  “The water in town is contaminated and there is a long-term plan to install a new water distribution system, including a new water storage tank and over 5 miles of new pipe,” he said. 

“The presentation included showing the students the bedrock cores from our drilling, the ongoing geophysics work via computer screen in a $250,000 Hager-Richter van and groundwater tools being used in the well,” said Heislein.  “They were very excited to take back to the classroom some of the bedrock cores to study further.”

Heislein said that after the event, the team sent the students additional site figures and plots of the geophysics work for classroom study.  “The students are working to support the town’s Sustainable CT Certificate Initiative which includes their study of water quality testing, investigations into impact and remediation on their community and plans to protect their water supply,” he said.

In addition to showing students all the technology the team uses, Dunbar, Heislein and the other representatives made it clear how much education is required to use the equipment and problem solve the water quality issues.  “We emphasized the importance of taking math, science, writing and public speaking classes to pursue these careers,” said Heislein.  “They will carry forward what they learn in school and in jobs and apply it to new challenges and situations.”

If the impact of these presentations were ever in doubt, concerns were laid to rest when a surprise revelation occurred during the STEM event.  “We found out between presentations that the Koman Government Solutions representative was from Vermont and actually got interested in geology from hearing one of these same presentations at the Elizabeth Mine Superfund Site in Stafford, Vermont,” said Dunbar, who is also Project Manager for that site.

Heislein agreed that participating in events like the one for Strong Middle School is valuable.  “We show students that they can pursue what really interests them and apply what they learn in class towards a career,” he said.

Award of the waterline project is expected by the end of November 2018.