Although one well in Mashpee is set to reopen by the end of the month after it was closed more than two years ago when chemical contaminants known as PFAS were found, another contaminated well on Turner Road remains out of commission.
State funding, however, could help remediate the well along with multiple sites throughout the Upper Cape that have been contaminated.
Multiple water sites throughout Falmouth, Mashpee and Bourne contain levels of PFAS — a group of chemicals found in drinking water throughout the nation that have been linked to adverse health affects.
Governor Charles D. Baker Jr. recently announced plans to allocate millions of dollars to testing and remediation for PFAS.
Mr. Baker is recommending $8.4 million to be used for testing to determine the scale of PFAS contamination in the drinking water. About $5 million of that will come from tax funds, and the rest will come from the penalty of Wynn Resorts.
Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection will use the $8.4 million to conduct PFAS testing around the state, according to Ed Coletta, spokesman for Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection.
Another $20 million will go toward Clean Water Trust to be used for remediation of PFAS and another $35 million will be used to expand the trust’s capacity, according to Gov. Baker’s budget bill. Towns or other entities will be able to get low-interest or zero-interest loans from Massachusetts Clean Water Trust to remediate contaminated sites.
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, known as PFAS, are a group of chemicals found in drinking water, certain foods and household cleaning products. Fire fighting foams have become a major source of PFAS groundwater contamination at airports and military bases where firefighting is common, according to Environmental Protection Agency.
PFAS have been linked to adverse health effects, such as increasing cholesterol, weakening immune systems, reproductive and developmental problems as well as thyroid problems, according to the Environment Protection Agency.
Although PFAS chemicals are no longer manufactured in the United States, according to United States Environmental Protection Agency, the chemicals remain in the environment for years.
“They call it the ‘forever chemicals,’ the PFAS chemicals, because they don’t degrade well in the environment,” Mr. Coletta said. “That’s one of the difficult issues to deal with — once it’s out there, it’s difficult to handle.”
On the Upper Cape, PFAS have contaminated multiple sites. A fire training facility located on the Joint Base Cape Cod in the ‘70s was a source of contamination as well as the Otis Rotary when tanker trucks overturned in the late ‘90s and early 2000s, according to Douglas Karson, the Air Force community involvement leader at Joint Base Cape Cod.
Ten homes near Ashumet and Johns ponds have PFAS in their private water supply, as well as homes at Lakeside Estates in Mashpee. Households affected have been given free bottled water, Mr. Karson said.
One municipal well located at Mashpee Village received funding by the Air Force to install a filter that will eliminate PFAS in the water. The project will be complete within a month, said Mr. Andrew Marks, superintendent of the Mashpee Water District.
“We have another site that’s down because of the same contamination, and we’re hoping that the federal government will pay for the filter as well,” he said.
That well, on Turner Road, has a PFAS level of 35 parts per trillion—half the standard level of 70 parts per trillion.
While Mr. Marks hopes that Baker’s budget allotment can help Mashpee, he is relying more on federal government assistance.
“If the federal government assisted us in funding for a new filter in the Turner Road site, we would be less likely to ask for state funding,” Mr. Marks said.
According to Mr. Coletta, the Mass Department of Environmental Protection will draft a proposal to lower the acceptable level of PFAS, which could help Mashpee. Currently, the standard level is 70 parts per trillion. The proposal suggests lowering the level to 20 parts per trillion.
Mr. Marks said if Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection lowers the groundwater level from 70 to 20 parts per trillion, there is a better chance of the federal government funding filters and contaminant removal projects.
“The federal government will only assist in federal contaminations if they’re above the federal level, 70,” Mr. Marks said. “We’re only at 35.”
“It is being fast-tracked,” Mr. Coletta said. “But setting a drinking water standard like this takes time. We’re hoping to have a draft out for public comment before the end of the year.”
In addition to setting a drinking water standard, Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection is working to set a site cleanup standard, which should be implemented by the end of the year, Mr. Coletta said. It would require sites, both surface water and groundwater, to be cleaned up as best as possible if it is tested at at least 20 parts per trillion.
“It may not necessarily be above the 70 health guideline, but if it’s above the 20, we’re asking communities to start addressing it and seeing what they can do to lower the number,” Mr. Coletta said.
Bourne Water District superintendent Bob Prophett said that Bourne does not have PFAS in its wells so would not seek state funding. The district sampled its wells in December 2018 and did not find any PFAS, he said. The village of Pocasset, which has its own system, found some levels of PFAS in its water, he said.
Mr. Stephen Rafferty, the Falmouth water superintendent, said that Falmouth’s water was tested five or six years ago during round three of EPA’s emergent contaminant rules, which required every public water system to be tested. PFAS was not detected at any of their sources, Mr. Rafferty said.
At the time, he said, researchers could not detect PFAS below 90 parts per trillion.
Mr. Rafferty said that the state’s allotment to PFAS testing would allow more laboratories to be able to test for PFAS.
“Right now there’s only a couple of labs that can sample for this,” Mr. Rafferty said. “He’s talking about making more money available so more laboratories are actually equipped with doing the testing.”
The Barnstable County Water Quality Laboratory is currently working to obtain certification to conduct PFAS analysis, said Sean O’Brien, director of the Barnstable County Department of Health and Environment.
The governor’s budget plan could help Cape communities address contamination problems and make testing for PFAS more accessible, Mr. O’Brien said.
With Gov. Baker’s proposal, Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection can conduct more samplings of water systems that serve less than 10,000 people as well as test private samplings, Mr. Coletta said.
Mr. Coletta recommends to residents to get their water tested if they live in a close radius of airports, military installations or industries known to use PFAS chemicals. If your water comes from a public water system, he said, you can call the water department to see if they’ve tested for PFAS.
“It’s just to stay vigilant and know where your water is coming from, where the supply is, and whether it’s in the area that can be impacted by one of those facilities,” Mr. Coletta said.