April 27, 2023
PFAS and the Town’s Drinking Water
By Gregory T. Federspiel
A family of man-made chemicals called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) is the subject of relatively new regulations at the state level and may soon come under new federal regulations as the EPA considers new National Drinking Water Standards. These chemicals have been widely used for non-stick, stain resistant and water proof coatings, for a host of consumer products including cosmetics, industrial uses and firefighting foams. The manufacturing of certain PFAS was discontinued in the US, but the chemicals may still be found in imported products. The chemicals are found most everywhere, as products are disposed of and PFAS get into the soil and water, finding its way into our food and water supplies.
While PFAS are ubiquitous – most people in the US and other industrialized countries have concentrations of these compounds in their blood – blood levels have been dropping as the use of PFAS have been discontinued. A 2015-16 federal study found a 70-82% drop in the general population. While the science is not definitive on the full impacts of these chemicals on humans there are studies that suggest links between exposure to certain PFAS and negative health effects.
Since 2021 the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection limits six PFAS compounds separately or together to 20 parts per trillion. This is an extremely small amount, comparable to a grain of sand on a beach, making testing a challenge. Municipal water systems are required to test for the presence of PFAS at the supply source. Our two sources, Gravelly Pond and the Lincoln Street Well, continue to test below the maximum allowed limit for PFAS. Test results can be found on the Town’s web site.
In addition to regular testing, the Town has pursued the design of a treatment system to remove the PFAS from our drinking water sources should this become necessary. We have completed this preliminary design work for the Lincoln Street Well and we are now undertaking a similar effort for Gravely Pond. This second effort will consider the possibility of creating one consolidated treatment system at the Gravely Pond site and pumping the Lincoln Street Well water to this location for treatment. Whether one consolidated system or two separate PFAS treatment facilities, the cost of these improvements is likely to be in the tens of millions of dollars. While we can hope to secure state and federal grants for these facilities, it is too early to know whether we will be successful. The Town is also participating in national litigation against the manufacturers of PFAS with the hope of receiving some compensation.
Last month the EPA proposed new standards for PFAS levels in drinking water. These proposed standards are lower than what the commonwealth has established. If the EPA standards are adopted, the state will follow suit and adopt the same standards. The process of adopting new national standards will play out over the course of the rest of this year. Assuming new standards are adopted in early 2024, according to the draft EPA rules, communities would have three years to comply, meaning by early 2027. Depending on what final standards are adopted, we could be facing a requirement to lower the levels of PFAS in our water supplies. Our DPW will continue to pursue potential treatment solutions in order to be fully prepared to move forward should we need to.
The Town web site has additional information on PFAS including various links to other sources of information. As we advance our studies and continue to test our water, the pages will be updated. We are fortunate to have staff and consultants who are well versed in this area. Please feel free to contact the DPW should you have additional questions after reviewing the materials on our PFAS web page.