Falmouth Water Department superintendent Stephen D. Rafferty and director of public works Raymond A. Jack took responsibility for improper storage of asbestos cement pipes near Pumping Station Road at the board of selectmen meeting Monday, November 4.
“As the water superintendent, I am responsible for the actions of the water department’s employees and for seeing that we perform our jobs to provide the town’s people with clean water, delivered reliably,” Mr. Rafferty said.
The Department of Environmental Protection investigated a complaint regarding the storage of asbestos cement pipes on October 25. Though the DEP did not find any asbestos pipes, Mr. Rafferty confirmed pipes from recent water main breaks were stored in a fenced and locked area near the old distribution barn on Pumping Station Road.
Citing a guidance document issued by the DEP in 2015, Mr. Rafferty said the town was not properly bagging or storing those pipes.
“The [water] department has followed much of the guidance given, but not all of it,” he said. “We have been consistently following the guidance on how to cut and remove pipe. We had not been consistently following the guidance on storage and disposal. We are correcting that deficiency.”
Mr. Rafferty said he will implement new policies to ensure safe temporary storage and timely removal of asbestos cement pipes going forward. This includes hiring a licensed asbestos abatement contractor to evaluate the site storage area to determine the amount of pipe that needs to be packaged and removed, followed by removal of and disposal of the pipes to a landfill licensed to accept waste that contains asbestos. The removal will happen every 30 days.
This could involve storing the asbestos cement pipes in a new location, Mr. Jack said. He is considering storing the pipes within the main garage at the DPW building on Gifford Street.
Regardless of where the pipes are stored, he said, a supervisor will conduct an inspection of the facility each month and maintain an inventory of asbestos pipes stored there.
“That will ensure the removal practices, as well as the sealing practices and storage practices are properly being adhered to for each individual job as well as over the course of the year,” Mr. Jack said.
In addition, the department will increase its communication with DEP. The town will contact DEP 10 days prior to any non-emergency work on asbestos cement pipes. In the case of an emergency, such as a water main break, the water department will call DEP within 24 hours of the work.
Mr. Rafferty said no harm came to Falmouth’s water supply, despite the improper storage.
“At no time have we put the public’s health or the water supply at risk in our handling and storage of asbestos cement pipes,” he said.
Selectman Douglas H. Jones asked for clarification of this comment.
“The biggest problem with asbestos is it getting into the air, as opposed to it getting into the ground or liquid,” he said.
Mr. Rafferty confirmed this. The Environmental Protection Agency guidelines set a limit of seven million asbestos particles per liter of water, compared to 10 particles per liter for airborne asbestos.
In addition, the fenced-in storage area is not within the Long Pond watershed.
“There is no pathway for it to get into our water supply from that location,” Mr. Jones said.
Even if it could, Mr. Rafferty said, the filtration plant would catch any asbestos fibers in the water.
Selectman Susan L. Moran asked if the town would address pipe replacement in its capital plan.
“I’ve noted quite a bit more, as I’m sure the general public has, water main breaks all over our town,” Ms. Moran said.
Town Manager Julian M. Suso said it is the town’s goal to replace older water mains.
“We have a program for water main replacement going forward,” Mr. Suso said. “We are on Main Street right now, which is our oldest section of water transport line.”
Mr. Rafferty noted that projects include an evaluation of all piping in town, which will help the town develop a priority list for replacement. The evaluation will consider frequency of breaks and how critical the pipe is.
When asked who is responsible for disposal of the old Main Street water main, Mr. Rafferty said that task fell to contractor C.C. Construction. In the case of Main Street, the company is replacing cast iron pipe with ductile pipe, and there is no asbestos involved.
“Asbestos cement had not been invented yet,” he said. “It was 50 to 60 years in the future before it was invented when that pipe was put in in 1898.”
Five members of the public attended the meeting; two asked questions of the DPW employees.
Michael G. Heylin of Cliffwood Lane, who also spoke about the matter at last week’s board of selectmen meeting, asked if employees responsible for removing asbestos cement pipes were trained, issued proper ventilation equipment and wore non-porous, full body suits for protection.
“If they were not given the proper full body suits, boots, everything, there is the possibility they brought asbestos home to their newborn children or teenagers,” Mr. Heylin said. “Now, asbestos won’t be shown for 10 to 20 years, but I am concerned that we are going to have a number of children in our town who, 10 to 20 years from now, have mesothelioma because of these unsafe practices.”
Mr. Rafferty said DEP’s guidelines do not require employees where these Tyvek suits when removing asbestos cement pipes. However, he will ask DEP for guidance.
In addition, he said, Occupational Safety and Health Administration training will be offered to employees.
“Going forward, everyone in the department who works in this area will go through training,” he said.
He said all water department employees had face masks when he joined the department in 2015. The department conducted a full review of its equipment this year, and new respirators were issued to all employees in February.
Marc P. Finneran of Trotting Park Road asked if employees were fit-tested for these masks. Deputy Director of Public Works Peter M. McConarty said they were, noting the fit test is an annual requirement.
Mr. Heylin noted that if new masks were issued in February, they were issued after the New Year’s Eve water main break on Main Street.
“I’m worried about the workers in this town and their families, because this is nothing to mess around with, and what I’m hearing tonight from you all, it’s kind of like ‘Oh yeah, we made a mistake, but we’re going to fix it in the future’,” Mr. Heylin said. “That’s all well and good until somebody dies from this, and it’s a horrible death.”
He said his main concern is the working conditions for town employees, not its potential impact on the drinking water. Chairwoman Megan E. English Braga said the department is taking those concerns seriously.
“Nobody is blowing this off or thinking it is not a big deal,” Ms. English Braga said. “They are going to make sure we are in full compliance. Yes, it was problematic that we weren’t, which is why this has to be looked at and addressed.”
Mr. Finneran asked for further clarification on asbestos particles in the water supply.
“The first thing that came into my scientific brain was what the hell happens when the water dries and it has the 7 million particles in it?” he asked. “When it all evaporates away, is that stuff left and able to become airborne and a dangerous carcinogen again?”
Mr. Rafferty said residents should not be concerned about asbestos in the water supply.
“Testing for asbestos fibers in the water is not a routine sample because historical testing has not found asbestos in the water at a level to be concerned,” he said.
He was unsure of the last time Falmouth’s water supply was tested for asbestos. The next scheduled test is in 2022.
“It is probably something we should arrange to do, it is just not a common sample that’s done by people,” he said. “We sample for a list of metals, we sample for a list of volatile organics, we sample for a list of compounds of concern and targeted compounds, as well as regular things. I don’t have an issue tracking down a lab that has some experience and doing such an [asbestos] sample, it is just not a regular, routine sample.”
Ms. English Braga said the board would discuss the matter further and present additional information to the public at a future meeting.
Until then, Mr. Jones encouraged people to report any potential issues they see.
“If they’ve known about this and had this picture since January, when it snowed last year, and they’ve been sitting on this picture for the last 10 months, I wish they had let us know in January,” he said. “We could have taken care of it then.”