Tetra Tech vice president Ron Myrick, whose firm has been handling testing and mitigation of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) around the Martha’s Vineyard Airport area, provided a status update about their findings and future plans during a Martha’s Vineyard Airport Commission meeting on Thursday.
PFAS describes a family of 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. Myrick said Tetra Tech is now “four years into this project”; it completed the first stage of PFAS investigations in April 2019.
“Martha’s Vineyard Airport was one of the first, if not the first, that actively reached out to engage and identify this issue and respond to it,” Myrick said, mentioning the commendations the airport has received from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP).
He listed four tasks the firm completed during fiscal year 2022, which had a budget of $340,000. These included testing the performance of 50 water treatment systems, testing 200 wells that had trace levels of PFAS (of the 200 south of the airport sampled periodically, 100 are sampled actively), a comprehensive site assessment investigation as a part of phase II of the project (e.g. more wells monitored, collecting samples from groundwater at various depths), and a six-month report sent to MassDEP.
A color-coded map shown by Myrick displayed that the majority of tested areas were colored in blue, which means no or very little PFAS was detected. While there were some light blues that went up to the green status, which represents detection of at least the state’s PFAS limit of 20 parts per trillion, there were no drastic changes in amounts.
“We had a couple that were 16, 17, 18 parts per trillion that went up into the 20s. We’re not seeing it go from 16, 17, 18 parts per trillion to 500 or a thousand,” Myrick told the commission, adding that the contaminants usually follow the same pathways they’ve been traveling since first being released decades ago. “Generally speaking, things are stable.”
Orange- and red-coded areas, which represent the highest PFAS levels, were “unsurprisingly” closer to the airport, according to Myrick. However, there are some anomalies in testing areas, with a “red in a sea of blues.” By testing groundwater at various depths, different formulations of PFAS chemicals were found at various locations.
In 2018, PFAS contaminants believed to be from firefighting foam used at the airport were found in the neighborhoods Tetra Tech is now testing. The firm primarily tested for PFAS contaminants that the airport had at its facilities for the foam that are not in stock anymore, such as a combination made primarily of perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS). Myrick said Long Pond (a.k.a. Long Cove) in West Tisbury seemed to be the dispersion point, based on the tests, and this knowledge will help the firm’s efforts to find a solution to the contaminants.
Commission secretary Kristin Zern wanted clarification about why there were houses near Tiah’s Cove in West Tisbury that detected PFAS contamination in wells, which caused concern for the local homeowners association.
“They are panicked because they think that the airport has somehow affected them,” Zern said. She added that a number of homeowners in the area have privately gotten wells tested for PFAS. “I have said nothing because I thought I was only going to make things worse in terms of hysteria,” Zern said.
“I think the thing people need to understand is PFAS are present in so many different products,” Myrick said. Myrick has a treatment system in his well that detected PFAS levels in the teens per trillion, despite not living near an airport, which could have come from his septic system, another source of firefighting foam, or some other source. “When you see concentrations in the double-digit part per trillion, you’re thinking septic systems, especially less than 50 parts per trillion. The standard is 20. When you start seeing 50, 100, 200, more than that, now you’re thinking manufacturing, airports, even landfills.”
Myrick said his firm is responsive to concerns about PFAS, and has been careful in studies about how the groundwater flows, which is in a southern direction, “not east-west.”
“As much as I feel for those people, they also need to understand they need to look other than just the airport. There are other sources that exist,” Myrick said.
Going into fiscal year 2023, Myrick listed five tasks Tetra Tech plans to accomplish for the project: further sampling of septic systems and wells, making reports for MassDEP, supplemental investigations, making a report and risk assessment for phase II, and a pilot test to treat aqueous film-forming foam (e.g. firefighting foam). Myrick recommended a budget of $265,000 for these activities.
“We’re trying to cover all bases,” Myrick said.
Meanwhile, the commission unanimously voted to award land leases to three businesses. The airport sent out a request for proposal for each of these business park lots for 20-year leases, which were due on May 20. Miller Professionals, Inc., received two leases. One was lot 39 (3 South Line Road), which is 139,878 square feet and has an annual lease cost of $160,629.70, and the other was lot 42 (22 North Line Road), which is 9,322 square feet and has an annual lease cost of $18,664, both for landscaping and construction materials storage. Big Sky Tents owner James Eddy received a lease for Lot 40 (7 East Line Road), which is 130,720 square feet with an annual lease cost of $143,792, for a 27,200-square-foot warehouse. JR Constructions & Sons, Inc., received a lease for lot 41 (23 West Line Road), which is 30,977 square feet with an annual land lease of $60,000, for a 12,980-square-foot building to use as an office and for contracting.