Test of a water sample taken from a Wild Harbor fire hydrant revealed 21 million asbestos fibers longer than 10 microns per liter, which is above the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection’s regulatory limit for asbestos fibers in drinking water.
The tests were conducted following concerns about the storage of asbestos cement pipes within a fenced-in area on Pumping Station Road near the Long Pond watershed.
“They weren’t going to test it. I made a stink about it, and a couple days later, they tested the water and it came back several million particles above what it should be,” said Michael G. Heylin of Cliffwood Lane. “Who’d have thunk that there’d be a problem with the water?”
The town tested water samples collected at Long Pond, Crooked Pond, Mares Pond and selected fire hydrants around town for asbestos. One sample, collected from a fire hydrant on Waterside Drive in Wild Harbor, North Falmouth, exceeded DEP’s limit of 7 million fibers of asbestos per liter in drinking water.
“Per further guidance from DEP, we are now proceeding with taking samples from the water source in each of the town’s five fire stations, as well as a location in Wild Harbor to measure the potential presence of asbestos,” Town Manager Julian M. Suso said Thursday, January 9 in a statement.
The second round of testing is based upon recommendations by DEP, which considers utilizing fire hydrants for such testing to be inappropriate, Mr. Suso said.
“Our understanding from DEP is that this is not a valid sample,” Mr. Suso said. “For us to issue any hard directives or information based on an invalid sample would be misleading. From a health standpoint, it would only be misleading for the town to speculate on a non-valid sample.”
Water Superintendent Stephen D. Rafferty said if Wild Harbor residents wanted to err on the side of caution, they could consider a carbon filter for their faucet or use bottled water.
Samples for the second round of testing will be collected on Monday, Mr. Rafferty said. It will take two to three weeks to measure the results.
“Upon receipt of the followup fire station testing, those results and that from Wild Harbor will also be shared with DEP and released to the public,” Mr. Suso said.
Samples from fire hydrants can be impacted by water scouring. Water comes out of a fire hydrant far faster than it does a faucet, and can potentially erode the pipe while doing so.
“They want you to sample it from a faucet, because that is what people actually drink,” Mr. Rafferty said.
The town will do that, board of selectmen chairwoman Megan E. English Braga said.
“We will redo testing from faucet locations around town, including Wild Harbor,” Ms. English Braga said. “While there has been an above level detection in Wild Harbor, I think it is too early to jump to the conclusion that there is anything wrong with the water in Wild Harbor.”
This testing is in addition to the regular testing conducted for the DEP.
“We’ve never had any exceedance when we’ve been on the DEP schedule,” Ms. English Braga said. “When that testing is done from a tap, we’ve never had any exceedance.”
In addition to the Wild Harbor fire hydrant, the town tested raw water at Long Pond, Crooked Pond and Mares Pond, as well as the finished water source within Long Pond.
“The results from the pond water source testing, including Long Pond, are all below the DEP-specified detection level for asbestos,” Mr. Suso said.
Samples taken from the various ponds are considered valid by DEP, he said.
A sample from a fire hydrant on Bar Neck Road near the Woods Hole Yacht Club also came back as a “non-detect.” The sample from a Seacoast Shores Boulevard fire hydrant tested at 2.1 million fibers per liter, below the 7 million fibers per liter regulation.
Marc P. Finneran of Teaticket said he was not surprised by the result.
“The National Fire Protection Association, which is the gold standard and the only standard, states hydrants should be exercised annually, in conjunction with a directional flush,” Mr. Finneran said. “The reality is that is not done.”
He said the testing results should encourage the town to flush the system.
“Maybe now, under new leadership, this will give them the incentive to do what they should be doing,” Mr. Finneran said. “That concentration would not be present if directional flushing were being done.”
He said the lack of regular flushing has been an ongoing issue with the town.
“It is too bad,” Mr. Finneran said. “None of this should have happened. That is why they have standards, but this is what happens when you don’t follow them.”
Mr. Heylin said the testing was a result of public advocacy.
“If not for the public going to these meetings and speaking out, myself and others, I feel the select people may not have said anything to the town,” Mr. Heylin said.
He said the board of selectmen’s behavior at that December 9 meeting was inappropriate, and that the board owes the entire town an apology.
“The public is afraid to speak out,” Mr. Heylin said. “At that last meeting, Sam Patterson yelled at me like a lunatic maniac. People were rude to me and yelled at me, but if I had not done that, they wouldn’t have tested it.”
Selectmen will receive an update regarding the ongoing storage and disposal of asbestos cement pipes at its Monday, January 13, meeting.