What’s in YOUR water?
By JANET STOICA
We might not have the terrible Flint, Michigan water contamination problem in our area but there are other evil chemicals lurking in our everyday tap and private well water as well as bottled water that the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”), Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”), and our state Department of Environmental Protection (“DEP”) are taking a closer look at.
These chemicals are known as PFAS (“forever chemicals”) or “per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances” and a recent review from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention outlines a host of health effects associated with PFAS exposure, including cancer, liver damage, decreased fertility, and increased risk of asthma and thyroid disease.
PFAS are found all around us and chemical companies had been declaring them safe for decades but in response to health concerns and public pressure to discontinue their use, these companies have now stopped their former PFAS usage but have now replaced them with other forms of PFAS that they’ve declared safer. Whether the “new” PFAS are any safer remains to be seen.
In the product manufacturing process used by chemical companies, PFAS are disposed of in our waterways. Additionally, those PFA-filled products we use every day and then throw into our trash are dumped into landfills or incinerated spreading their poisonous remains everywhere. Some of those products are Teflon pots and pans, fast food wrappers, microwave popcorn bags, pizza boxes, candy wrappers, cleaning products, shampoo, dental floss, nail polish, eye makeup, paints, varnishes, etc.
The EPA has PFAS regulations stating that no more than 20 ppt (parts per trillion) may be allowed in our drinking water. It does not appear that the FDA has adopted a definitive regulation on PFAS in bottled water. Consumers are encouraged to research PFAS on their brand’s websites.
In our area towns, action is being taken or has already been taken. Here’s what our local towns are doing or have done in response to PFAs:
Auburn’s Water Superintendent, Greg Woods, mentions that “the town has 12 wells and 11 of those 12 wells have measurable amounts of PFAS but they are all currently below the EPA’s maximum testing level of 20 ppt. Half our wells are below 10 ppt and the other half are below
10-15 ppt. We are keeping our eyes on our wells and closely monitoring them on a monthly basis.” Auburn is also at a Level 2 Drought Stage and its residents use the odd/even outdoor watering practice where those houses numbered with odd and even numbers may water their lawns on specific days. “Water conservation is always at the forefront of our goals,” said Mr. Woods.
George Patrinos, Dudley Water and Sewer Superintendent, stated that Dudley was well ahead of the curve for sure. “We’re in pretty good shape right now,” Superintendent Patrinos said. “A few years ago when we had to take a closer look at our water pumping stations, we realized that rebuilding had to be done. We’ve done $13-16 million worth of work here. We applied for and received grant money from the Mass. Revolving Fund. We cleaned and remodeled our water tank systems, upgraded one well, and installed a Granular Activated Carbon (“GAC”) unit which treats for PFAS and cleans the water which is then treated with corrosion control and sanitizing chemicals. Our previous system was so antiquated that we had to take action and then the PFAS treatment system opportunity opened up. We were lucky to have had the chance to control this at the beginning of the PFAS notification process. Once our new main in the Mason Road area is finished next spring that completes the connection of our blended water well system.”
Charlton’s Water and Sewer Superintendent, Peter Boria, referred to WhiteWater, Inc. which operates the town of Southbridge’s water system and also provides piped water to parts of Charlton. Steven Gregoire, Manager of the Southbridge Water Department at WhiteWater, stated “we’ve just completed four straight quarters of state PFAS testing here with zero PFAs detection. The testing equipment could not detect any PFAS. We have 3,000 acres of protected reservoir drinking water. You could say that nature’s natural filtering system of trees and surrounding land is the reason for our well-purified water. Before the water source is sent out to our customers a series of three filtration systems clean the naturally-occurring organic materials.”
Oxford’s water system is monitored and serviced by Aquarion Water Company of Massachusetts with an office in Oxford. According to the company’s website, Oxford’s water supply, which consists of three wells, is monitored every quarter with the last sampling completed in April 2022. Their report states that Wells 1 and 2 had no PFAS detection for the last three quarters. Well 3 tested at 2 ppt in December 2021 and January 2022 with no PFAS detection in April 2022. All well tests are below the 20 ppt DEP guidelines.
Tom Cutler, Webster’s Water Superintendent, said that of the town’s seven wells, there are five currently in service. “We are ready to put our Bigelow Road well back on-line,” he said. “We had to order new parts and getting them took a while due to the long wait times. We have six wells at Memorial Beach and five are currently in service. We are doing a complete rehab on Well Number 6 at Memorial Beach including motor replacement. The rehab and cleaning of our five other wells should be done in 4-6 weeks.
In the last few years, Webster built a multi-million dollar water filtration and treatment facility at Memorial Beach to eliminate manganese and iron water fouling. “Our wells are testing below the 20 ppt maximum,” said Mr. Cutler, “but we are watching the Bigelow Road well as its readings have been close to the maximum allowed. We are blending water from our wells and look forward to obtaining funding from the state’s Revolving Fund to assist with PFAS filtration. Tighe & Bond, our engineering consultants, are working on filing our request for funding. We have also joined with other cities and towns in a class action lawsuit filed by the law firm of Baron and Budd against the companies who made PFAS products. Additionally, we see the EPA lowering their allowed PFAS levels and we are looking to the future.”
Webster residents were strongly encouraged to attend a PFAS Public Hearing on Wednesday, August 10, at 7:00 p.m. in the Selectmens’ Meeting Room at Town Hall. The town’s engineering consultants, Tighe & Bond, were to present PFAS water treatment options including estimated treatment costs at that time.
Contact Janet: [email protected]