Board Of Health Cautions About Health Risks Of Habitat For Humanity Housing Development On Whiting Street

By Kristen Arute, Published: August 4, 2020
302-304 Whiting Street [Hingham Current News File Photo / Kristen Arute]

In a letter to the Zoning Board of Appeals, the Board of Health (BOH) identified several potential health risks that would arise from the proposed Habitat for Humanity development on Whiting Street. The plan for a lot that measures just under an acre calls for it to be subdivided into two lots for the purpose of building two homes where one currently exists. At the outset this might seem inconsequential; however, the BOH points out that the project is more complicated than it would appear.

The project as it exists in its current form would be unbuildable if held to the current standards within the Town of Hingham. Therefore the plan, which would add to the town's affordable housing inventory under the 40B law, would need approval from the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) to set aside local standards through the 40B permitting process. This includes the standard for the safe disposal of sanitary sewage.​ In the BOH letter to ZBA, several concerns were raised over the project's impact on the town's drinking water.

"Ingestion of drinking water with excessive (nitrogen) may cause death due to (blue baby syndrome) in infants, and has been linked to deaths diagnosed as Sudden Instant Death Syndrome, fetal and birth defects, and miscarriages," read the letter. "Protecting drinking water sources from excessive nitrogen contamination is a core responsibility for any Board of Health." The treatment process for municipal or private home’s water supplies cannot remove excessive nitrogen from the groundwater source like it can with bacterial pathogens or toxic heavy metals. "The only real protection our residents have against excessive nitrogen groundwater contamination," the letter continued, "is to limit its introduction."

Because Hingham’s water supply comes from a sole-source aquifer and is highly susceptible to cross contamination, Hingham requires that a lot contain at least 12,500 sq.ft. of land per bedroom. The area in question on the property at 302-304 Whiting Street falls far short of this. Additionally, no property in Hingham should have a nitrate concentration that exceeds 10.00mg/l; however, the nitrate loading calculations for both parcels show that the Habitat for Humanity development would contaminate the surrounding groundwater with excessive nitrogen. "The two lots represent examples of putting too much development and too many people on too little land," said the BOH letter. "This is unacceptable."

The Board also noted that they have not aware of whether or not the Weir River Water System has the ability and the capacity to supply water to this project.​ "In addition to the Board’s interest in protecting our town’s municipal water supply and its dependent watershed," the letter noted, "the Board also has concern over the neighboring properties to the project parcel that use private wells as a source of their drinking water supply." Most of the homes along this particular stretch of Whiting Street are not serviced by the water company and instead rely upon private wells.

"It’s unfortunate that this 40B project, like some others we’ve seen recently, chose to bypass the Board of Health’s open public forum in hopes of pushing their proposal past non-experts in the complex realm of septic system design and groundwater protection," the letter said admonishing the ZBA and the Affordable Housing Trust.In conclusion, the Hingham Board of Health insisted that the ZBA hold the Affordable Housing Trust to all state and local environmental standards and offered to remain a resource to the ZBA "regarding this application and any other health and safety concern affecting the visitors, residents and businesses of Hingham."

Kristen Arute can be reached at kristen@hinghamcurrent.com.