water quality

High Levels of Toxic Chemicals Found in Some Mass. Water Supplies

Massachusetts communities are monitoring PFAS in their drinking water, a group of chemicals also found in consumer products and food

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Massachusetts communities are finding elevated levels of chemicals in their drinking water since the state implemented new safety regulations last fall.

The town of Wayland has been handing out cases of bottled water since it first found certain per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in two of three wells at the Happy Hollow wellfield in February. In their most recent update, town officials said they plan to shut down one well, treat the second well showing elevated levels and blend the treated water with water from the third well. 

“It’s our understanding that it’s really the sensitive population that is more at risk of having PFAS in the water,” said Thomas Holder, Wayland’s director of public works.

The short-term solution will bring the Happy Hollow supply into compliance with regulations set by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP), officials said, but work continues to find a long-term solution.

“Nothing has changed” Holder said. “The water is the same, it is just the regulation has dropped from 70 parts per trillion to 20 parts per trillion”

MassDEP adopted a strict drinking water standard in October 2020, limiting the sum of six specific PFAS to no more than 20 parts per trillion. The standard is meant to protect people against adverse health effects from drinking the water.

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PFAS are a group of man-made chemicals often found in drinking water, but people are also exposed through consumer products and food. The family of chemicals has been used since the 1950s to manufacture stain-resistant, water-resistant and non-stick products.

PFAS levels are continuously monitored across the state. Other communities are addressing similar issues.  

Studies indicate that exposure to high levels of certain PFAS could cause a variety of health effects including compromised immune systems, diseases and have even been linked to cancer.

Recent test samples led to the closure of a water treatment plant in Wellesley. The town’s director of public works, David Cohen, said they are currently working with MassDEP to ensure they’re meeting all of standards. The town of Natick is holding a community meeting to discuss the matter on Wednesday night.

According to The Boston Globe, public water sources supplying more than 10,000 people are required to test. Results are in for about half of those communities, and 20% have come back with concentrations above state regulations.

Wayland officials said all other wells in town are in compliance but continue to be monitored. The town is also planning to apply for state grant funding to help pay for a portion of the short-term solution. 

Wayland was handing out cases of water to residents as an immediate response but the town is now transitioning to a rebate system. Eligible residents can apply for a rebate on their water bill. Further information on the program and instructions on how to apply are available on the town’s PFAS6 webpage

Wayland will be putting out a consumer confidence report next month that will state “the provision of high quality water is our focus,” Holder said.

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