The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, March 2, 2007


The Carlisle Board of Health has many roles

The word "multi-faceted" well describes both the Board of Health (BOH) and its mission. As stated on the town's web site (, the BOH is an elected board that is "responsible for assessing, maintaining and protecting the public health, safety and environment of the Town of Carlisle." While this description is broad, the responsibilities of the BOH are numerous, detailed and varied. They include enforcing state laws regarding public health, disease control and sanitary living conditions and protecting the environment from pollution and other threats.

The BOH also establishes and enforces local regulations and policies. It issues permits for septic systems and wells and reviews building permit applications for state Title 5 compliance. Another important role of the BOH is to advise the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) on the complex water and septic challenges presented by high-density 40B developments. Other responsibilities include emergency preparedness, monitoring animal problems, inspecting and licensing local food establishments and many other public health and outreach programs.

The five-member board has the collective expertise to assess and act on a wide range of issues during — and in between — their biweekly meetings.

The board is composed of an educator, a health care administrator and three engineers. Chair Martha Bedrosian has worked in education for over 22 years and earned a M.Ed degree in Natural Science and a Ph.D. in Education. Leslie Cahill has spent many years working in the healthcare sector and is currently employed by the Veterans Administration as a research compliance specialist. Bill Risso is a civil engineer who has been active in many aspects of the profession for over 30 years. He is former manager of the Boston National Airspace System Implementation Center, which is responsible for the engineering and construction of all facilities owned by the FAA in New England. Jeffrey Brem is a registered professional civil engineer with experience in the design of septic systems. He is a strong proponent of technological solutions. Michael Holland is a registered professional civil engineer with over 35 years experience in the design of civil engineering and development projects, including wastewater collection, treatment and disposal, water supply, environmental assessments, and stormwater management systems.

Protecting Carlisle's water supply

When asked what they thought were the most important issues facing the BOH, concerns about the continued availability of clean, plentiful and safe drinking water in Carlisle topped the list. Most members agree with Risso's assertion that "protecting the quality and quantity of the town's potable water supply is, I believe, the foremost issue at the moment."

Carlisle residents are completely dependent on private wells to supply their drinking water. If contaminants find their way to a residential well, or if a well runs dry, there is no backup town water supply.

The Carlisle BOH is required by the state to ensure that all septic system approvals are in compliance with the State Environmental Code, Title 5, through which the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) regulates the construction and maintenance of subsurface sewage disposal systems. However, Title 5 is considered by some board members to be a "minimum standard," and the Carlisle Supplementary Regulations for Sewage Disposal Systems (supplemental regs) are in many ways stricter than Title 5 to protect private wells and wetlands from septic contamination from nearby systems.

Is Title 5 enough?

"Essentially, the Carlisle supplemental regs go over and beyond the Title 5 regs," said Bedrosian. "This is due to the fact the the Town of Carlisle and the BOH members over the years have felt that the state regs reflect a minimum standard for public health safety and that this is not sufficient for Carlisle.

"Carlisle is totally dependent on its natural resources," she continued. "If water becomes contaminated or in short supply, we have a real serious situation on our hands."

Title 5, together with the supplemental regs and town zoning bylaws, are generally considered by board members to provide sufficient protection of water resources in Carlisle. Two-acre zoning allows space for the proper placement of wells and septic systems, and the supplemental regs require a setback of at least 100 feet between all components of a proposed septic system and wetlands, watercourses and wells, which is double the setback distance required by Title 5.

"One perspective that I bring from my job [at the Veterans Administration] to the BOH is my belief that many federal and state regulations represent a minimum standard, or floor," said Cahill. "Local situations or conditions may necessitate that additional policies be developed to provide safeguards for people and the environment."

Still, there is not complete agreement on the BOH when it comes to Title 5. Holland says, "Title 5 has evolved to be very comprehensive and in general ... is sufficient to protect the public health in regards to on-site sewage disposal." Brem is even more enthusiastic: "Title 5 is a great regulation based significantly on science based solutions."

One of the board's tasks in 2007 is to review and update the Carlisle supplemental regs to reflect changes made in Title 5 by the state last year. As members continue to grapple with a collective view on the state and local regulations, Risso suggests that housing density must be considered: "in the more dense developments I believe Title 5 is not sufficient."

The challenge of 40Bs

As the town continues to grow, Bedrosian said, more and more demands are being placed on our natural resources. "We might not continue to have the quality and quantity of water we need to supply the population," she said. "We can easily contaminate the water we have. We can't take this natural resource for granted."

Chapter 40B is a state statute which permits developers to build higher density housing than allowed under local zoning bylaws as long as at least 25% of the units meet state affordability criteria. The statute allows developers to bypass the normal local permitting process, and instead seek a comprehensive permit from the ZBA. Although the developer is not required to obtain formal approval from the Board of Health, the ZBA requests the BOH to review plans and make recommendations regarding water quality and quantity, septic systems and other areas of BOH expertise. After the comprehensive permit is issued, the applicant must apply for a septic permit from the BOH but the board can only review the septic plans for compliance with Title 5. The additional safeguards normally provided by the supplemental regs are not considered in this review, although the BOH can recommend conditions to the comprehensive permit, which may or may not be approved by the ZBA.

"The makeup of a town's water supply and sewage disposal should be a factor in how dense a 40B development is," said Risso.

Cahill agreed. "Smaller 40B developments may work, but the impact of the larger development like Coventry Woods could have very serious and irreversible effects. The 40B regulations do not seem to have provisions for towns like Carlisle."

"From my limited experience, 40B creates such a burden on our town boards that it will burn out local government volunteers. These developers can come into small towns like ours and completely overwhelm the system," Cahill warned.

The public face of the BOH

While many things have changed over the years regarding the Board of Health, one of them has remained the same: Linda Fantasia, who has been greeting the public at the BOH office for over 20 years.

Fantasia began working as the Board of Health Agent part time in 1986, when the board had three members and office workers still used electric typewriters. Fantasia was the first staff person hired for the BOH. She worked at a large Oak table at the town offices, then housed in the library. All phone calls went through the single phone in the Town Clerk's office, but many callers found it more convenient to call Fantasia at home, where she did half of her work anyway.

After outgrowing their library office in the late '80s, the BOH, Planning Board and Conservation Commission were given office space in a classroom in the Spalding Building. The BOH moved again in 1994 to Westford Street, where the Mosquito is currently located. The BOH found a permanent home at the brand new Town Hall near the town center in 1997.

Changes over the years? Plenty. For instance, "we didn't have Lyme Disease or West Nile Virus," recalls Fantasia. "But we did have the same amount of mosquitoes."

By 1995 the board decided they needed regular office hours and officially promoted their agent to full-time status. The workload has continued to expand, and a couple of years ago the size of the board was increased from three to five members. Mary de Alderete has joined the BOH staff as a part-time administrative assistant.

Public Health

The Federal Department of Homeland Security and Center for Disease Control require local boards of health to plan for public health emergencies, and Carlisle is working toward developing 24/7 coverage for its BOH. Regional mutual aid agreements are being developed and the Medical Reserve Corps now has 38 volunteers who are being trained to help during a variety of potential public health crises.

Outreach and education

The BOH office responds to phone inquiries about water testing, Lyme Disease, West Nile Virus, Triple E, rabies and other public health topics. The BOH sponsors rabies clinics, flu clinics, health fairs, well testing, hazard waste collection and a number of other services described on their web site.

Why volunteer?

What is most rewarding about being a member of the Carlisle Board of Health? Brem says he enjoys "helping people accomplish their goals while protecting public health" and "looking at innovative and different solutions." Both Holland and Risso say they like "helping the community." For Cahill, "learning about hydrology and septic systems" and "working with the other board members to make thoughtful and effective board determinations and policies" are meaningful rewards.

"It is a very worthwhile board to volunteer one's time on," offers Bedrosian. "Our work is important to the health and well being of our residents and the town and its natural resources."

2007 The Carlisle Mosquito