Lead emerges in Kuehn’s Way well water

Deeper wells don’t show evidence of lead contamination, Jordi says.

Lead contamination has surfaced at the Kuehn’s Way project site.

Updated May 26 

Concentrations of lead above the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) action level have been discovered in nine monitoring wells at the Island Housing Trust (IHT) Kuehn’s Way pocket neighborhood project in Tisbury. The wells aren’t as deep as the drinking water wells for the project, according to IHT executive director Philippe Jordi. There is “no sign” those deeper wells have heavy metal contamination, Jordi wrote in an email.

The Island Housing Trust is working with the Tisbury board of health … and its environmental [consultant] to understand the source of heavy metals, specifically lead, found in nitrogen monitoring wells on the undeveloped Kuehn’s Way property at 937 State Road in Tisbury,” Jordi wrote Monday. “The good news is that no sign of heavy metals were found in the deeper drinking wells at 120 feet in depth on the property. These deeper wells will be used to provide the drinking water for the project.”

Jordi also shared a certificate of analysis from the Barnstable County Health Laboratory that showed a water sample with a reading of 0.0010 mg/L (milligrams per liter) for the deeper well. The number is well below the EPA action level. 

“The Tisbury board of health has also confirmed that water quality tests conducted for drinking wells on an abutting property also show no sign of heavy metals,” Jordi wrote. “The drinking wells at this and other Island Housing Trust rental properties are strictly regulated by the state Department of Environmental Protection, and regularly tested by a certified water quality specialist.” 

The test results for the monitoring wells were compiled into several reports by ETR Laboratories, a testing laboratory in Leominster. All results exceed the EPA action level threshold of 0.015 mg/L. The results range from a low of 0.023 mg/L from monitoring well No. 5 to 1.285 mg/L for monitoring well No. 7. 

“The shallower nitrogen monitoring wells, at approximately 55 feet in depth, are not related to the deeper drinking wells at 120 feet in depth,” Jordi wrote. “These nitrogen monitoring wells were required by the Tisbury board of health in order to establish a baseline before the construction and operation of the Kuehn’s Way septic system. Copies of the nitrogen monitoring well test results were provided to the Tisbury board of health and the neighboring Deer Hill Road Association. An environmental assessment will be conducted by a third-party environmental consultant hired by Island Housing Trust to determine the source of the heavy metals found in the shallower nitrogen monitoring wells.”

Tisbury health agent Maura Valley told The Times Friday she plans to bring the test results before her board when they next meet. Select board chair Jim Rogers said he was aware of the issue, and plans to inquire further with the board of health. 

Jordi wrote that IHT’s environmental consultant plans to perform soil tests for lead.

“Lead can affect your organs, including harming the brain, kidneys, and nervous system,” the Massachusetts Bureau of Environmental Health website states. “The developing brains of infants and young children are at greatest risk. An exposure to lead that would have little effect on an adult can have a big effect on an infant or child. It is important to reduce lead exposures as much as possible — particularly for young children, pregnant women, and infants — because there is no safe level of lead exposure.”


IHT updates board of health

IHT project director Derril Bazzy told the Tisbury board of health on Tuesday the lead discovery was “not a crisis, but it’s something that I think we all want to be looking at together to just understand better.”

Bazzy described the test results as a mystery. “Everyone’s a little baffled by why we’re getting these kinds of findings,” Bazzy said. He noted one well “tested really extremely high.” 

Bazzy said IHT is looking into whether buckshot was put into that well, or if it was hit with runoff or the test it was subject to was faulty. He said IHT plans to have all the wells tested again, and will also examine them with a camera. 

“We’re also going to scope all of the monitoring wells with a camera to see if there’s any foreign objects in there,” he said. “This Friday that’s going to happen.”

He said IHT took a look back at past testing for 2017 and 2018, and found lead readings. 

In 2017, he said, the well at the corner of Deer Hill Road and State Road “also had an astronomical lead number, and then when it was tested again six months later, it was down to ambient levels. So something happened there, and then it flushed through.”

He said IHT plans to test neighbors’ wells for lead free of charge. “That testing may happen next week,” he said. 

Bazzy said John Clarke, owner of Island Water Source, told him he’s never encountered lead in a drinking water well on the Vineyard. Bazzy suggested another possibility for the results was contamination in the testing lab. 

He reminded the board that someone sabotaged wells at the site earlier with oil. “Certainly everyone has agreed that this is [an] offsite source for whatever lead is being found there, because all of our monitoring wells, both on the up-gradient side and the down-gradient side, are showing some lead,” he said. “So again it’s either faulty testing, or it’s an offsite contaminant. And we’re going to find out.”

Bazzy suggested there was a greater mystery at play. “To us, the bigger question is really a community-level question — why are there high levels of lead, if indeed the testing proves to be accurate, and where’s that going? I mean, all of this groundwater does head toward Tashmoo Pond.”

The board took no action. 

Updated with additional information provided to the Tisbury Board of Health.