State sets standard on PFAS

Airport was already using 20 ppt as a guide.


Updated 12:15 pm

On Friday the state filed draft regulations setting a standard for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) at 20 parts per trillion (ppt) for the sum of six PFAS compounds, something Martha’s Vineyard Airport officials knew was coming because of the airport’s ongoing testing and treatment for the emerging contaminant. 

A press release issued Friday by the state Executive Office for Energy and Environmental Affairs also indicated $24 million has been set aside in a supplemental budget for water infrastructure, including PFAS testing and remediation.

“The protective standards being filed today are significant steps to protect public health from per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances,” said Governor Charlie Baker. “Through stringent standards and continued assistance to communities dealing with contamination, including funding to both test and treat affected water sources, our administration will continue to take all needed steps to address PFAS and ensure residents are provided with clean, healthy drinking water.”

Friday’s announcement came a year to the date after airport officials held a public meeting with property owners south of the airport to announce they were expanding the investigation of PFAS and working on a remediation plan. Since then, the airport’s consultant, Tetra Tech Ron Myrick, has filed remediation plans, installed treatment systems, and continues to monitor test wells.

The airport launched its investigation while PFAS was still relatively unknown. Myrick suggested the airport get ahead of it, knowing that the firefighting foam used to battle jet engine fires contains PFAS.

Myrick said it remains to be seen whether the airport will be eligible for any of the state funding that’s being made available. “We’re waiting to see how the program rolls out,” he said, noting he has questions in to state environmental regulators. “Once they lay out the program, we’ll proceed to see if there’s any participation by the airport commission.”

To date, the airport has spent $500,000 and growing, Cindi Martin, airport director, said. “It just continues to rise,” she said.

Asked if the airport would look to recoup some of those funds from the $24 million state set-aside, Martin said, “We certainly are watching it closely.”

The draft standards are more stringent than any other state’s. The federal Environmental Protection Agency has not yet set a standard for PFAS.

The state’s previous guideline had been 70 ppt, though the airport’s remediation plan, through conversations with MassDEP, set the action plan at 20 ppt, Myrick said. So there aren’t any new wells affected, though the new state standard provides for a sixth compound (rarely found in earlier testing of the airport-affected wells) that will have to be considered, he said.

According to the release, the state has also finalized standards for soil and groundwater cleanup, becoming one of only two states with comprehensive standards for that. “The standards will require parties that are responsible for contamination to clean up groundwater that could be used as drinking water to meet a standard of 20 ppt for the sum of six PFAS compounds,” the release states. “The cleanup standard also establishes specific PFAS limits for soils, and was developed utilizing the latest research on health effects associated with PFAS.”

In the eyes of the state, the airport is the responsible party, Myrick said. However, that doesn’t preclude the airport from eventually going after the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which has required the firefighting foam containing PFAS be stored and used even after it’s been identified as a pollutant. “That’s more of a legal question,” he said.

Public hearings have been scheduled across the state to allow the public to comment on the draft regulations. The closest hearing to the Island will be held on Wednesday, Jan. 8, at 10 am at MassDEP’s Southeast Regional Office in Lakeville. Comments will be accepted through Feb. 28.

PFAS has been linked to health risks, particularly with pregnant or nursing women and infants.