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Groundbreaking Nitrogen Monitoring Technology Completes Field Verification at Barnstable County’s Massachusetts Alternative Septic System Test Center (MASSTC)


Information from: Barnstable County Department of Health and Environment

Groundbreaking Nitrogen Monitoring Technology Completes Field Verification at Barnstable County’s Massachusetts Alternative Septic System Test Center (MASSTC)

October 22, 2021 – Barnstable, MA | The Massachusetts Alternative Septic System Test Center (MASSTC), a division of the Barnstable County Department of Health and Environment, announced today that field verification testing conducted at the facility during the last three years has aided in the successful development of an award-winning sensor for measuring nitrogen discharges from innovative and alternative (I/A) septic systems.

Found in most soils and plants, water, the atmosphere, and our DNA, nitrogen is crucial to life on earth. But when the balance of nitrogen becomes disturbed in nature—if there is too much nitrogen or too little—problems arise that can negatively impact the health of our ecosystems. This is especially apparent here on Cape Cod, where most of our wastewater is disposed of through onsite septic systems that are not designed to adequately treat excess nitrogen and prevent it from contributing to the deterioration of our sensitive waterways.

Innovative and alternative septic systems improve upon conventional septic system design by adding components that address excess nitrogen from wastewater. However, a barrier to the successful implementation of these systems in sensitive coastal areas is increased monitoring requirements that can be costly and inconvenient. The nitrogen sensor, which was designed by Dr. Qingzhi Zhu at Stony Brook University’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, measures nitrogen concentrations in real-time and transmits the data where it can be analyzed remotely to assess septic system performance. Now that the technology has completed its field-testing requirements at the MASSTC, it is one step closer to commercial deployment.

Since it was founded in 1999, the MASSTC has become a leading test facility for innovative onsite septic system technologies. Research performed at the Test Center has been instrumental in providing a better understanding of how viruses, bacteria, environmentally hazardous nutrients, and contaminants of emerging concern (CEC) can be treated before they make their way into our drinking water and fragile ecosystems.

According to MASSTC’s Director, Brian Baumgaertel, “This nitrogen sensor will significantly improve and simplify nitrogen monitoring in I/A systems, making them more accessible for use where they are needed most. We are proud that the Test Center was able to contribute to the development of this important technology and look forward to seeing it implemented here on the Cape”.

Beneficiaries of the technology will include wastewater operators, state and local regulators, residents of Barnstable County and the public in regions where water quality and wastewater disposal are important environmental and public health considerations.

More information regarding the Test Center and its various wastewater research projects can be found at


Established under a Special Act of the Legislature in 1926, the Barnstable County Department of Health & Environment (BCDHE) provides regional public health and environmental health services throughout the 15 towns comprising Barnstable County. The Department manages several environmental, public health, and homeland security grants funded through state and federal resources. The Department’s primary mission is to protect public health and the environment and promote the physical and mental health and well-being of Barnstable County residents.