Water dept chasing short and long term fix for PFAS issue

Abington’s water department says it’s moving quickly to implement new treatment strategies that will reduce the amount of potentially dangerous chemicals found in the water supply. 

But accomplishing this may take months and ultimately cost more than $3 million, Abington/Rockland Joint Water Works Superintendent Joe LaPointe told the board Thursday. 

Until its fixed, pregnant women and those with compromised immune systems are being encouraged to not consume the water. However, the board said the water is safe for most people. 

“Its only this sensitive subgroup that should be most concerned,” LaPointe said. “For anyone else, it’s only after a 70 year period of consuming the water that these effects would kick in.”

The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection last fall handed down new regulations saying public water supplies shouldn’t have more than 20 nanograms of per- and polyflouroalkyl substances per liter. These substances, known as PFAS, are manmade chemicals historically found in firefighting foam, non-stick coatings, and other products that are increasingly linked to cancer, thyroid issues, and other health problems. They are considered “forever chemicals” due to the fact they don’t break down and linger in human bodies. 

The previous safe limit of PFAS was 70 nanograms per liter. The federal government’s standard remains at 70 nanograms. 

Water quality tests taken from the Hingham Street treatment plant showed a combined average of 23.4 nanograms, which required the water works to send a “public education” notice to all customers. The water works is still waiting for the state to certify the results of its March test. 

LaPointe said the department has started temporarily using a granulated carbon treatment to reduce the levels. The department is also in the process of buying two used filter vessels that will be temporarily installed in the Hingham Street plant. 

For a long-term solution, the department will be purchasing four new filter vessels for the Hingham Street plant, then transfer the two used units to the Myers Avenue treatment plant. 

However, it could take 22-25 weeks to receive the filter vessels, assistant superintendent Kristel Cameron said.  That timeline could be impacted as more and more municipal water systems work to meet the new standards. 

“We’re not the only water department having this problem,” LaPointe said. “Its definitely going to be a statewide issue. We just jumped on this early.”

The new state regulations required water systems like Abington’s to start testing in April; the town’s water department started testing in January. 

When the Meyers Avenue plant was refurbished last summer, the department installed a carbon filter in one of the three treatment filters, instead of a traditional sand filter, as a test program to see how well the setup removes PFAS. LaPointe said every test has come back showing 0 nanograms per liter.  

The cost of upgrading all the filters is expected to cost more than $3 million. 

LaPointe hopes the state will soon provide grants to help municipal water departments pay for the needed improvements since they are being driven by the state’s regulatory changes.  

A new infrastructure bill being pushed by President Joe Biden includes $10 billion to help states monitor and remediate PFAS in public water supplies.

Nicole Corbett, a science teacher at Abington High School, asked whether the contamination could have come from the former South Weymouth Naval Air Station. Military bases have been identified as common contributor to PFAS contamination in adjacent water supplies, including Otis Air Force Base in Cape Cod. 

LaPointe said the state has not yet started PFAS source tracing, but added that the state has said previously groundwater from the air station doesn’t run towards the Hingham Street watershed.

“We are eventually going to go back down that road, and trace it back,” LaPointe said, adding that the contamination could have come from other past industrial uses in the area.

%d bloggers like this: