Updated Jan. 6
An initial investigation into 96 private wells in the neighborhood south of Martha’s Vineyard Airport shows that a total of 13 wells had samples above the state guideline per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), according to an email late Friday from Ron Myrick of Tetra Tech, the environmental engineer overseeing the testing for the airport.
The email was distributed to those seeking updates on the investigation, Myrick wrote. The majority of those wells testing above 70 parts per trillion (ppt) were in the area of Edgartown–West Tisbury Road, immediately south of the airport.
The airport launched the extensive testing in November after three samples tested positive for PFAS. The airport conducted the testing as a result of findings across the country associated with firefighting foam used at airports. When wells tested positive for PFAS on airport property in July, Myrick sought permission to extend the sampling outside the airport boundaries.
The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) is receiving updates from Tetra Tech, and will ultimately receive a report on what Tetra Tech believes is the extent of the pollution, and ways to remediate. For now, homes that have elevated levels are being given bottled water.
“Tetra Tech is now preparing an Immediate Response Action Plan that will be submitted to MassDEP by Jan. 19, 2019, which will present the results of the investigation to date as well as the plan for mitigation and response actions,” Myrick wrote in his email. “At the time that this report is submitted to MassDEP, an email will be distributed with instructions regarding downloading or reviewing of this report online by the public. We will also provide details regarding a public meeting that will include presentation of the content of this report and additional information in late January or early February.”
The airport commission has held one impromptu public meeting on the topic, and a second with an official from MassDEP on hand to answer concerns of residents. The airport commission has a regularly scheduled meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 16, at 4 pm.
The suspected health risks from PFAS exposure are through consumption, officials have said. It affects the thyroid, liver, kidneys, hormone levels, and immune systems. It is also a suspected carcinogen with long-term exposure.
Officials have stressed that it’s years and years of exposure to PFAS that is of concern. Bathing in the water is not harmful, environmental officials have said.
“An important note about consuming water with PFAS in it is it doesn’t always mean there’s going to be a health effect. The degree of risk depends on how long you’ve been exposed to PFAS, the duration, and what the concentration is,” Gerard Martin, southeast regional director for MassDEP, said at a meeting in West Tisbury last month. “And when we try to come up with these numbers, we use very, very conservative calculations to determine that. We look at it as if you’re drinking two liters of water every day, same concentration, for seven years — 30 years for cancer.”
The study by Tetra Tech was not mandated, even though the airport is required to use the firefighting foam by the Federal Aviation Administration. Airport officials undertook the study to be proactive, Myrick and airport officials have said.
“We would like to thank the residents in the study area for their assistance and cooperation through the first phase of this investigation,” Myrick wrote. “We have generated a large volume of data to better understand the issue and develop appropriate solutions.”
Updated to correct the date of the next meeting of the airport commission. -Ed.