Soil from runway rebuild must be tested for PFAS

Airport commissioners hopeful samples come back negative.

Now that asphalt has been removed, crews will be testing the soil cleared to make way for a rebuilt runway at Martha's Vineyard Airport. - Gabrielle Mannino

As part of the ongoing reconstruction of runway 06/24 — Martha’s Vineyard Airport’s 5,504-foot primary runway — excess soil from the project must be tested for the presence of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) before it can be properly disposed of, airport commissioners were told at a meeting Thursday.

Commissioners approved a work order not to exceed $14,200 to pay for Tetra Tech, the environmental engineering company overseeing the testing for the airport, to test the stockpile of soil from the reconstruction of the existing runway.

Matt O’Brien, project engineer for McFarland and Johnson, briefed the commission on the current status of soil testing at the airport. “The runway project was in the midst of construction when PFAS was discovered,” O’Brien said. “Because PFAS is a concern, we looked at how it would affect the runway project. There was a known discharge of the firefighting foam, and we needed to start coordinating with MassDEP immediately to make sure we were up to snuff and meeting regulations.”

O’Brien said MassDEP approved the removal of asphalt and other materials from the worksite, but placed restrictions on how excess soil would be removed and disposed of, based on whether or not PFAS was found.

“The soil is currently being stockpiled and covered with sheeting. If this work order is approved, we can have Tetra Tech go out and test the soil for us,” O’Brien said. He said there is no indication that the soil has chemicals in it, but the airport is being cautious in presuming that it might.

Commission chairman Bob Rosenbaum pointed out the “elephant in the room,” that if the soil does test positive for PFAS, the airport will have to work with MassDEP to do further tests and figure out how to dispose of it. “That would not be good for us,” Rosenbaum said. “Fingers crossed that these tests come back negative.”

O’Brien said the soil samples will take two weeks to test and yield results.

Ron Myrick of Tetra Tech has already taken samples and, according to O’Brien, is anticipating approval by the state.

Myrick told The Times that 5 additional monitoring wells are being put in to test for the presence of PFAS. Of the 5 monitoring wells, 2 of them are located approximate to the location of a 2011 boat fire in the Airport Business Park, Myrick said. The rest will be located across the Edgartown-West Tisbury Road, north of the original study area, where a small amount of firefighting foam was used to put out an aircraft fire in 1996.


Zero foam on the ground

In other business, commissioners approved a $29,979 purchase of a state-of-the-art fire truck nozzle fitting that will allow the airport to test their firefighting foam without expelling it outside the truck.

Airport director Ann Richart told commissioners that the new Oshkosh Eco EFP fitting requires zero foam on the ground for testing foam-chemical percentage, along with how well the foam flows through the hose.

The new smart nozzle archives test data for three years, includes time and date stamps for easy reference, and allows data to be downloaded onto a USB drive.

“We are still required by the FAA to test our foam on a regular basis, and until recently we had to test it by expelling it outside of the truck,” Richart said. “We have been capturing it, but as of January, FAA approved new devices that allow us to test the foam and put it directly back into the truck.”

Of the three FAA-approved nozzle systems, the one Richart suggested choosing, the Oshkosh, is compatible with the new Oshkosh fire truck commissioners approved in December.

“The one trick to this is that FAA is giving us a 90 percent grant to purchase the truck, and MassDOT will give us 5 percent,” Richart said. “Even though FAA requires us to test the foam and approved the use of this device, they will still not pay for this [fitting].”

Richart said she expects the truck and fitting to arrive on-Island sometime in September.


Runway project going well

Assistant airport manager Geoff Freeman gave an update on the status of the runway reconstruction project. He said that by the end of next week, he hopes to lay the first patches of asphalt for the runway, and close it to all air traffic except helicopters on April 9 through 11.

The target date for opening the runway to all air traffic is May 15, although some finishing touches will continue to be ongoing after the resurfacing is complete, such as painting and grooving of asphalt.