Airport continues PFAS monitoring

Environmental engineers will install additional groundwater monitoring wells to fill in data gaps.

Martha’s Vineyard Airport is working with environmental firm Tetra Tech to monitor and mitigate PFAS pollution caused by aircraft firefighting foams.

The Martha’s Vineyard Airport Commission is continuing to work with consulting and engineering firm Tetra Tech to monitor private wells near the airport for per- and poly-fluoralalkyl substances (PFAS), and treat them with filtration systems if the compounds are found at higher concentrations above 20 parts per trillion (PPT).

Environmental engineer for Tetra Tech Ron Myrick said at Thursday’s commission meeting that for the past three years, his company has periodically tested private wells and sample wells dug specifically for monitoring PFAS as it spreads with groundwater flow. Activated charcoal filtration systems have also been installed at private wells with higher levels of PFAS.

The origin of the PFAS pollution at the airport is its historical use of aqueous film forming foam (AFFF) to extinguish aircraft fires.

“We continue to manage the situations under Massachusetts regulations,” Myrick said.

When Myrick tests the wells, he looks for six target PFAS compounds that are known to have toxicity concerns; however, the impact of other PFAS is yet to be understood. 

Myrick said that depending on the PFAS concentration at each location, the wells are sampled either quarterly, semiannually, or annually. 

“Even those wells with the highest concentrations entering in are still performing well over two years later, and in some cases, with over 200,000 gallons processed,” Myrick said.

Tetra Tech’s largest sampling event at the airport is coming up in June, at which time all the treatment systems are tested, even if they are well below the state standard.

According to Myrick, the wells have seen very little increase in PFAS, and there has been an overall reduction in concentration near areas where AFFF was historically used.

“We have seen a handful of changes in concentrations, but it’s usually just going from 15 PPT to 25 PPT. We don’t see it going from 15 to 100, or 15 to 200,” Myrick said.

A comprehensive site assessment is due at the end of 2022 — a report that requires investigation into the horizontal and vertical spread of PFAS through groundwater and soil. 

“When PFAS is discharged and enters the environment, it doesn’t always go in a straight direction,” Myrick said.

Currently, Tetra Tech is preparing an FY22 scope of work, which includes adding monitoring wells to PFAS sites in order to fill in data gaps.

Similar to tests being conducted on synthetic turf materials proposed as part of an athletic campus revamp at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, potential PFAS compounds that are not currently regulated or identifiable with direct testing can be investigated using total organic fluorine.

All PFAS are fluorinated compounds, Myrick said, so if there are higher concentrations of fluorine in water samples, it is an indication that PFAS might be present.

Additionally, Tetra Tech will be investigating a disposal area at the airport known colloquially as the old Navy dump, which operated in the ’40s and ’50s, before federal and state environmental laws prohibited the dumping of certain materials.

The old Navy dump is located just to the east of Vineyard Wine and Spirits. Sand and other materials from recent construction projects are stored there, but underneath the area, there is old infrastructure related to the military facility that needs to be dealt with. “Some of those materials include electrical equipment. Although we didn’t detect impacts to groundwater or even soils below that area, those materials exist, and need proper management,” Myrick said.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is continuing to work with Tetra Tech and the airport to review the matter, and may launch further investigation and mitigation efforts into any potential hazards in the solid waste disposal area.

In other business, Maine-based Elite Airways has started service to and from Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. The charter- and schedule-based airline will look to operate one flight per day to White Plains, N.Y., with the potential of operating year-round.

At present, ground operations for Elite Airways will be handled by an external company that also handles JetBlue, although it will have its own ticket counter and staff working in the main terminal.

According to airport director Geoff Freeman, the airline is looking to possibly expand its White Plains route into connecting Vineyard and Nantucket passengers with one-stop service to Florida.

Additionally, all existing airport employees and employees brought in by airlines will undergo training for the Blue Campaign — a national public awareness initiative designed to educate the public, law enforcement, and other industry partners to recognize the signs of human trafficking, and how to appropriately respond to possible cases.