As a coastal community, having water as a particular focus of attention will come as no surprise. And while the ocean shoreline, beaches and harbor are a source of pride and community identity, it is not the only water resource that deserves attention. Yes, with rising seas and bigger storms in our future we certainly will need to be giving a great deal of attention to the ocean but other water resources, including our drinking water supply and the treatment of wastewater also demand considerable thought and focus.
To help move forward on the necessary analysis and long-range planning needed for our water systems, the Selectmen voted to move forward with the re-establishment of a Water Resources Protection Task Force. The Task Force will be a subcommittee of the Conservation Commission comprised of representatives from various town boards and committees as well as members “at large.” More details on the task force, its charge and priorities will be forthcoming.
One of the newest challenges with which the Task Force will assist is monitoring and responding to the presence of Per – and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances or PFAS. These chemicals, used in a wide variety of applications since the 1950’s including numerous “non-stick” applications -pans to raincoats, cosmetics, deodorants, and fire-fighting foam, have become widespread in the environment despite many having been banned in the US and are showing up in drinking water. The chemicals have been linked to a variety of health risks, particularly to sensitive subgroups of the population including pregnant women, nursing mothers and infants.
The State of Massachusetts recently has adopted regulations establishing a maximum level of six PFAS compounds over which remedial action is required for public water systems. The threshold is 20 parts per trillion (ppt) or 0.000020 milligrams per liter. This is a very small amount and requires very precise lab work to detect. Currently there is no PFAS drinking water standard set by the federal government, but the EPA has a health advisory at 70 parts per trillion or above for two of the six PFAS.
We have begun testing our drinking water sources for the level of PFAS. Both Gravelly Pond and Round Pond, near our water treatment plant, have readings from 2 to 7 ppt. The State requires monthly sampling if the level of PFAS is higher than 10 ppt. The Lincoln Street well has a higher reading, the highest sample coming in at 18.9 ppt. At this higher level we will be conducting monthly testing. If the results go over 20 ppt then we will need to move forward with remedial action, meaning investing in new filtration technology that can remove the chemicals from the water. This will likely cost a few million dollars if it becomes necessary.
Given that we are close to the remediation threshold for this one well, the Town is hiring an engineering firm with expertise in PFAS to further analyze the make-up of our PFAS levels and to develop a proposed strategy for removing the chemicals should it become necessary. It may well be that our PFAS levels will not increase but we want to be prepared in case the levels do rise above the action threshold.
There is some good news to report. The use of PFAS has declined in the US and concentration levels in US residents have lowered. Some home water filtering systems can help remove these chemicals – one should verify the effectiveness of a particular system. The State is providing both technical and financial assistance to communities with elevated levels in their drinking water and the recently approve infrastructure bill passed by Congress provides funding that can help as well.
Our Department of Public Works will continue to ensure that our drinking water is safe for all to consume. As our monitoring and analysis continues, future updates will be provided.