Hazardous PFAS levels found in West Tisbury

Further testing is underway.

Hazardous levels of PFAS were found in a private well in West Tisbury. — Rich Saltzberg

The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) found hazardous levels of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in the private well of a Road to Great Neck property in West Tisbury. This testing was a part of a statewide private well sampling program by the department in 85 towns where 60 percent or more of the residents were served by private wells, according to MassDEP spokesman Edmund Coletta. 

The Road to Great Neck property tested 102 parts per trillion for PFAS, well over the state’s limit of 20 parts per trillion, according to West Tisbury health agent Omar Johnson. He said six more neighboring properties are being tested for PFAS by MassDEP. Coletta told The Times that testing 90 parts per trillion for PFAS is what MassDEP would consider an “imminent hazard,” which is when the department starts “a review of the surrounding land uses for potential sources of PFAS, and the sampling of additional private wells in the area.”

“Note that in some cases, no particular source may be found, given the ubiquitous nature of PFAS,” Coletta said. 

West Tisbury had 37 wells tested through the state program. Six other wells also detected PFAS, but three of them were below the state limit. The other three wells tested over 20 parts per trillion, but were below the imminent hazard level.

Chilmark and Aquinnah also had wells tested for PFAS, according to a dataset from Coletta. None of the seven wells tested in Aquinnah detected PFAS, but Chilmark found two below the state limit. 

Johnson recognized that the presence of PFAS may be of concern to those living near the Road to Great Neck, and suggested neighbors use bottled water until they could get their wells tested. 

PFAS describes long-lasting chemicals that break down very slowly, which is also why they are nicknamed “forever chemicals.” Extended periods of exposure to PFAS or high concentrations of the chemicals are toxic, and can affect developing fetuses, thyroid, liver, kidneys, hormone levels, and the immune system. The chemicals have also been known to create a cancer risk.

The Island has had its bouts with PFAS before. PFAS contaminants, believed to be from firefighting foam used at Martha’s Vineyard Airport, were found in neighborhoods south of the airport in 2018. More recently, a private well in West Tisbury tested 50 parts per trillion for PFAS in October

Johnson said he has been diligent about sending out notifications and knocking on doors to let West Tisbury residents near the PFAS-tested areas about the high levels. Further tests are underway by MassDEP, so Johnson said all he and the town’s residents can do is “wait and see.”

“I just ask that people be patient,” Johnson said. 

For those who did not receive state testing and would like to find independent laboratories to conduct PFAS tests on their property, MassDEP has a listing at bit.ly/3l63D7L. An interactive map of the tested areas is also available at bit.ly/3MY1ruU


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